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 3. Basic Epistolary Functions

Josephus embeds letters that have two basic functions: to advance the narrative, either independently or in association with human characters, often while characterizing those characters in ways that are important for the narrative, and to close spatial and temporal gaps. Although the use of letters for narrative advancement may seem an obvious employment, the variety of ways in which they are used to move a plot would seem to be an important part of a study of embedded letters. This chapter will examine cases in which Josephus and other authors use letters to alter relationships or to maintain them through collaborative efforts. Letters do not always function independently. They sometimes move a plot through their association with a human character—perhaps a messenger or interpreter—who may be a relatively important element of a plot and can therefore make a letter more dynamic than it might otherwise be. On the other hand, letters do not always need to be dependent on a character to be prominent, as later examples in this chapter will show. In some cases, embedded letters {99|100} reveal the characters associated with them to be epistolary masters, and Josephus appears to include himself among the best masters. It is to these examples of mastery that we turn first.

Letters as Plot Movers: Epistolary Masters 

The episode starts with an abrupt transition, [4] which picks up on the idea of the Spartans’ advance warning that a Persian attack is imminent (Herodotus 7.219–220): [5] Ἄνειμι δὲ ἐκεῖσε τοῦ λόγου τῇ μοι τὸ πρότερον ἐξέλιπε (7.239). Herodotus’ earlier reference to the Delphic oracle confirms his return to the subject: the Spartans catch wind of Xerxes’ attack early, and they send that knowledge on to Delphi (Herodotus 7.220). Herodotus comments that they learn about the attack in a “strange way” (τρόπῳ θωμασίῳ, 7.239). [6] Demaratus, exiled among the Persians, is the one who learns of Xerxes’ plan, and, wanting to send out word to the Spartans (ἠθέλησε Λακεδαιμονίοισι ἐξαγγεῖλαι), he scrapes the wax off of a folding tablet (Δελτίον δίπτυχον λαβὼν τὸν κηρὸν αὐτοῦ ἐξέκνησε), writes the king’s intention in the wood (ἐν τῷ ξύλῳ τοῦ δελτίου ἔγραψε τὴν βασιλέος γνώμην), and then melts the wax back again over the letters (ὀπίσω ἐπέτηξε τὸν κηρὸν ἐπὶ τὰ γράμματα). Herodotus explains (ἵνα) that the messenger (φερόμενον κεινὸν τὸ δελτίον) then does not have trouble on the road. When the message comes to Sparta, [7] the Spartans are unable to understand (οὐκ {100|101} εἶχον συμβαλέσθαι οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι). Gorgo, the king’s wife—here acting as a prominent character in terms of facilitating epistolary communication—figures out the method of concealment, the Spartans find the letters in the wood, and they send the message (ἐπέστειλαν) to the other Greeks. [8]

The Greeks’ mastery of letters here is contrasted with the oafishness of the Persians as letter-relaying characters in Herodotus’ next book. There, Artabazus, ἀνὴρ λόγιμος among the Persians, lays siege to Potidaea and Olynthus (Herodotus 8.126–127). He is aided by Timoxenus, general of the Scionaeans, who agrees to hand Potidaea over to him. In order for the two to communicate, whenever either one writes a letter (ὅκως βυβλίον γράψειε), he winds it around an arrow shaft (τοξεύματος παρὰ τὰς γλυφίδας περιειλίξαντες), furnishes the letter with feathers (πτερώσαντες τὸ βυβλίον), and shoots it to a location that they had agreed upon (ἐτόξευον ἐς συγκείμενον χωρίον). However, Artabazus misses his mark and hits a man in the shoulder! A crowd gathers, the arrow is taken, they learn of the letter (ἔμαθον τὸ βυβλίον), and it is delivered (ἔφερον) to generals who read it (ἐπιλεξαμένοισι τὸ βυβλίον) and somehow discern the identity of the traitor. Though the Persians are inventive, they fail to successfully employ their own technology. {102|103}

In a similar way, Josephus presents himself as superior to his opponents with respect to embedded letters in the Vita. His self-presentation is significant, not only because it demonstrates epistolary superiority for a character in the narrative, but also because the character is the author himself. The letter allows Josephus to shape his own impression in the minds of his readers. In the Vita, Josephus includes several embedded letters that are used to facilitate collaboration, [14] some of which quite clearly reveal him to be much more clever than his adversaries. In the course of Josephus’ generalship in Galilee, a group organized by John of Gischala attempts to have Josephus replaced and to discourage loyalty to Josephus among Galileans (Vita 189–270). According to Josephus, the plot includes several letters—all of which he quotes—designed to lure Josephus into traps (Vita 217–218, 226–227, 229, 235). Here, he confounds his adversaries by writing witty responses when they request that he visit them. [15] Outwitted after several exchanges and in need of different tactics, Josephus’ enemies, led by John of Gischala, cease to reply (οὐκέτι ἀντιγράφουσιν, 236), and they meet to decide on a new plan of action against Josephus. John suggests to the group that they write letters to all Galilean towns denouncing Josephus and to Jerusalem saying that the Galileans no longer support him (Vita 236–238). The group’s attempt to draw together Josephus’ enemies in Galilean towns proves unsuccessful because Josephus catches word of the plan from a deserter. He sends out troops to intercept and apprehend any letter carriers (μετ᾽ ἐπιστολῶν), with instructions to either deliver them to him (240) or to forward the letters to him (τὰ δὲ γράμματα πρὸς ἐμὲ διαπέμπειν, 241). [16] That same day, Josephus’ men intercept letters that slander him (Vita 245). Thus he foils his adversaries’ letter campaign.

Josephus’ next move is to confront his enemies directly. Rather than going straight to where they are meeting, however, Josephus goes to sleep across the street. His adversaries leave to spread rumors about him, but the crowd to which they are appealing does not accept their story. When Josephus hears about what is happening, he states the contents of their first letter to him (Vita 216–217)—that they had been {103|104} sent from Jerusalem to resolve the dispute between him and John, and that to accomplish this, they had attempted to have Josephus come to them. He proceeds to display the letter, which he must conveniently have had with him (Vita 254).

The fact that Rome’s missives require immediate response is reiterated in many places in Josephus, such as in Antiquitates Judaicae 19, discussed later in this chapter, where a rather odd epistolary exchange occurs: Agrippa receives an ominous letter from Claudius. The letter is not an affirmation of the Judaean client-king’s role in Claudius’ accession. Rather, Josephus says that it is provoked by Claudius’ suspicion that Agrippa is fortifying the walls of Jerusalem in order to betray his alliance with the Roman princeps. Only a few chapters before this, Claudius had rewarded Agrippa with an expanded territory equal to that of Herod the Great. Claudius’ letter does not specify in formal terms the fact that Claudius and Agrippa’s friendship will be dissolved. However, with this one letter, the complexion of their relationship apparently changes.

Letters as Plot Movers: Altering and Continuing Relationships

Broadly conceived, epistolary events often involve altering relationships or reinforcing relationships, often through some kind of collaborative effort. These two categories can easily bleed into each other, and my purpose is not to draw a hard, fast line between them. Authors can advance a narrative by using embedded letters between friends and enemies to help or harm, establish allies, or fragment foreign relations.

Letters are not always explicitly involved in exchanges establishing such relationships. In Antiquitates Judaicae 7, the king of Hamatha sends his son to David to request that he make him σύμμαχος καὶ φίλος (7.107). In the Roman period, Josephus has the Hasmonean Judas send his friends to Rome to establish the Romans as his friends and allies (Antiquitates Judaicae 12.415; cf. 13.32). This does not necessarily mean that letters were sent without messengers. In any case, I am interested primarily in the instances in which Josephus uses a letter to establish or dissolve relations in formal terms.

A second type of relationship-altering letter that can be seen across the examples of epistolary intratexts includes those that do not use formal terms. That is, they do not suggest initiating or dissolving {107|108} relationships in terms such as φίλος, σύμμαχος, or similar terms. Texts with embedded letters that fit in this category are more difficult to isolate, but they would include letters that alter relationships without invoking such terms. These letters focus particularly on the relationship itself, or involve actions that would directly affect the status of a relationship. Embedded letters incorporated into Josephus’ narratives that can be categorized in this way include the letter from Augustus that informs Herod that he will no longer be treated as a friend but as a subject (Antiquitates Judaicae 16.290) and the letter from Claudius to Agrippa that instructs Agrippa to cease building the wall of Jerusalem (Antiquitates Judaicae 19.326–327).

Examples of these types of letters are numerous. Herod seeks permission with a letter to avenge the murder of his father; Cassius gives his authorization in reply (Bellum Judaicum 1.230). Herod sends a letter to Augustus regarding the alleged plot of his sons Alexander and Aristobulus against him; Augustus replies with instructions regarding Alexander’s trial (Bellum Judaicum 1.537). Herod’s eldest son Antipater has his friends in Italy write a letter to Herod suggesting that Antipater visit Augustus’ court, so Herod sends Antipater off with a large sum of money and with a will naming Antipater as his successor (Bellum Judaicum 1.573). After becoming princeps, Vespasian writes a letter to Tiberius Alexander, governor of Egypt, asking for his help in taking Jerusalem. Alexander reads the letter in public and has the people and the legions take their oath of allegiance to Vespasian (Bellum Judaicum 4.617). Vespasian sends a letter to Petilis Cerealius dispatching him, as consul, to Britain (Bellum Judaicum 7.82). Josephus writes a letter to the {108|109} Sanhedrin seeking their instructions; they reply that he should stay in Sepphoris and fortify Galilee (Vita 62). The ruling party in Jerusalem sends out a detachment to intrigue against Josephus among the Galileans, writes John of Gischala to be ready to attack him, and writes to Sepphoris, Gabara, and Tiberias to support John in doing so (Vita 203). Though only a representative sampling, the placement of such letters embedded to develop narratives would probably not have been unexpected, as the comparative cases from other authors discussed in this chapter make clear. Similarly, 3 Maccabees includes two long letters from Ptolemy Philopator to his generals and troops (3:12–29, 7:1–9).

Thucydides also embeds missives that are important to advancing the narrative, and he does so even without reference to the named letter carriers who have other roles to play beyond the letters themselves. In one text, Pausanias, having been relieved of his duty as a Spartan general, returns to the Hellespont without orders to do so. His motive is ostensibly to join the battle against the Persians, but his true intention is to betray himself and his forces to Xerxes, according to Thucydides (1.128). He sends a letter to Xerxes offering him prisoners of war, proposing an alliance through marriage to his daughter, and offering to work with him to subject all of Greece to his control (1.128.7). Xerxes responds favorably to Pausanias’ offer (1.129). He replies in a letter that Thucydides embeds in his narrative in oratio recta. The letter thanks Pausanias for saving Xerxes’ troops and exhorts him to carry out his plans of collaborating with Xerxes to bring Greece under Persia’s hegemony. It also introduces Pausanias to Artabazus, whom Xerxes had sent with his letter to assist Pausanias in his designs.

This episode in Thucydides is not simply another joint action, like so many that take place in his (and others’) histories; it is inflected throughout by the employment of letters. The narrator explicitly focuses several times on the letters that are used to facilitate the collaboration of Pausanias’ and Xerxes’ activities. Not only are both letters quoted—apparently in full—but the messengers for both parties are also named; Xerxes is explicitly pleased with the letter; the seal of Xerxes’ reply is noted; and the effect of Xerxes’ letter on Pausanias is commented upon at length (1.130). The extensive use of letters in this collaborative endeavor very likely represents a prominent exemplum in ancient readers’ minds for long-distance collaboration being conducted through letters, especially given the extensive quotation of epistolary texts, the importance of the event in Greek history, the intriguing nature of the collaboration, and the Thucydides’ comments, which focus attention on the letters. {109|110}

Conventional relationship building

The letter from Hyrcanus apparently requests that the Senate redress the wrongs done to the Jews by Antiochus, who contravened previous senatorial decrees (13.261–263). Hyrcanus’ request is not directly stated by a quotation of his letter, or conceivably even the envoys’ speech, but is reflected indirectly in Josephus’ quotation of the terms of the Senate’s agreement. The Senate essentially refuses to involve itself in Jewish foreign affairs.

The text from Book 13 is similar to a previous one, in which Josephus again has Antiochus VI send a letter (γράμματα) to Jonathan to make him a friend and ally (φίλον τε καὶ σύμμαχον), to recognize him as high priest, and to add to his territory (Antiquitates Judaicae 13.145–146). Antiochus supplements this letter with luxurious gifts and offers of being called one of Antiochus’ πρώτων φίλων (“first friends,” Antiquitates Judaicae 13.146). In contrast to 1 Maccabees 11:57–59, Josephus has Jonathan respond by affirming him as a friend and ally (εἶναί τε φίλος ὡμολόγει καὶ σύμμαχος, Antiquitates Judaicae 13.147).

Josephus’ addition of Jonathan’s affirmation to Antiochus of his status as φίλος καὶ σύμμαχος (13.147) balances the account. Perhaps to satisfy his readers’ expectation that the party receiving a request for formal friendship would respond with a reciprocal offer, Josephus’ account is more plausible for the negotiation of relations between separate social groups than is the narration in 1 Maccabees. The idea of reciprocation is confirmed with the use of the same terms for Jonathan’s offer of friendship as those used by Antiochus.

The terms with which Areus describes Onias’ people are, strictly speaking, not those used by formal friends. He acknowledges that the Spartans and Jews are related by common descent from Abraham (ἐκ τῆς πρὸς Ἀβραμον οἰκειότητος, 12.226). This means that Areus and Onias are not from “separate social units,” as Herman defines “ritualised friends.” [39] Indeed, as Josephus has it, Areus affirms that they are ἐξ ἑνὸς γένους (“from one race”). Areus suggests that they exchange goods, but not in one particular ritual act: the relationship that he proposes is more open-ended. Areus invites Onias to send a request for a gift, and says he will do likewise, and that theirs should be a {111|112} relationship characterized by open sharing of resources (τὰ τε ὑμέτερα ἴδια νομιοῦμεν καὶ τὰ αὐτῶν κοινὰ πρὸς ὑμας ἕξομεν, 12.227). The proposal is one that ancient readers may have expected, if research of formal friendship in the Greek world is to be considered. [40] Areus does not use terms to indicate that he is seeking formal friendship, as do other embedded letters in Josephus. Nor does he send a gift that would require an immediate counter gift of equal value. [41] And although Areus proposes that they share possessions, according to the text as Josephus presents it, the expectation of continuing formal gift exchanges does not seem to be part of the arrangement. [42] Thus the letter seems to represent the conventions for a kinship-based exchange of gifts, rather than for establishing the terms of formal friendship.

Epistolary misfiring

Plutarch includes a counterexample to these successful epistolary exchanges in an apophthegm about a letter from the king of Persia to Agesilaus. Delivered by a messenger, the letter is ineffective in building a relationship, [45] and it provides an example of how an epistolary negotiation can misfire. The apophthegm summarizes the letter in formulaic terms similar to those seen throughout several discussions above: the subject of the letter is hospitality and friendship (ἐπιστολῆς … περὶ ξενίας καὶ φιλίας, Agesilaus 213 D). [46] Agesilaus refuses to receive the letter (οὐκ ἔλαβεν, Agesilaus 213 E); he tells the messenger to report back to the king that he does not need to send letters to him personally (εἰπὼν ἀπαγγεῖλαι βασιλεῖ ὡς ἰδίᾳ μὲν πρὸς αὐτὸν οὐδὲν δέοι ἐπιστολὰς πέμπειν, 213 D). If he wanted to show himself to be a friend to Sparta and well disposed to Greece, he himself, to the best of his power, would be a friend to the king (ἢν δὲ φίλος τῇ Λακεδαίμονι καὶ τῇ Ἑλλάδι εὔνους ὢν φαίνηται, ὅτι καὶ αὐτὸς φίλος αὐτῷ κατὰ κράτος ἔσοιτο). Agesilaus instructs the messenger to tell the king that if he should be caught plotting against Greece, and here the apophthegm shifts to oratio recta, regardless of how many letters Agesilaus receives, he will not befriend Persia (ἐὰν μέντοι ἐπιβουλεύων ἁλίσκηται, μηδ᾿ ἂν πάνυ πολλὰς δέχωμαι ἐπιστολάς, πιστευέτω ἕξειν με φίλον, Agesilaus 213 E).

The expectation of an ethical response is the kind of reply expected by Claudius when he tells Agrippa to stop building the Jerusalem wall (Antiquitates Judaicae 19.317–319). As a failed attempt at a positive relationship-altering letter, it also is an intertext for Herod’s embassy to Augustus—another example discussed below that falls in the “informal” language category—which the princeps refuses because he is displeased with Herod’s warmongering against the Nabataeans (Antiquitates Judaicae 16.290). The failed attempt at relationship altering appears elsewhere in negative form as relationship breaking.

The episode comes in the context of Diodorus’ explanation of the strange customs of Egypt. In this explanation, Diodorus enumerates those responsible for Egyptian law. He names six legislators in all (1.94.1–95.6), and Amasis is fifth in the series. Most of the examples demonstrate the excellence of Egyptian rulers and illustrate their legal accomplishments. Amasis is no exception. Though not of the royal line, Diodorus explains, Amasis is “invested with kingship” because he is “exceedingly wise and in disposition virtuous and just” (συνετός τε γεγονέναι καθ᾿ ὑπερβολὴν καὶ τὸν τρόπον ἐπιεικὴς καὶ δίκαιος…ὧν ἕνεκα καὶ τοὺς Αἰγυπτίους αὐτῷ περιτεθεικέναι τὴν ἀρχὴν οὐκ ὄντι γένους βασιλικοῦ, 1.95.1). The case of his offering of prescient and wise advice to Polycrates, with an embassy and a letter, serves as an example of his character.

Interestingly, the letter is not Amasis’ first mode of communication in the account. He begins by sending an embassy. When the embassy is unsuccessful, he writes (and presumably sends) a letter to Polycrates to insist that he moderate his treatment of citizens and foreigners. Polycrates only complies with Amasis’ directive after he reads the letter.

This is similar to the sort of relationship-altering letter that Josephus uses in the examples discussed above. One significant contrast between the last two examples, Agesilaus and Amasis-Polycrates, and those examples from Josephus that use formal language is that the latter do not break off relationships. This may be because the section of the Antiquitates Judaicae from which they come are concerned with demonstrating the positive relationships between the Jews and other rulers, aristocrats, kingdoms, and empires. Thus, the dearth of relationship-building-gone-wrong should probably not be surprising. The presence of such letters in other texts, however, makes the positive examples in Josephus stand out to a greater extent.

Augustus and Herod

It is important to note that Josephus chooses in his summary of the main point of Augustus’ letter to focus on the relationship between Augustus and Herod. There are any number of reasons why this is a logical focus: the blow it would give to Herod’s leverage with the Nabataeans, the embarrassment it would cause Herod with respect to {118|119} Syllaeus, or the effect it would have on his personal power to sort out his domestic turmoil. The reason is not as important here as the fact that Josephus singles out relational dissolution as a viable subject for Augustus’ letter. Furthermore, having Augustus turn away the embassy that Herod sends to defend himself is not enough to alter the relationship: Augustus must send a letter stating the change.

Augustus’ rejection of Herod’s embassy raises again my extension of Thomas’s point, discussed above, that messengers can embody letters. Though a letter is not explicitly mentioned, it may well parallel the embassy with letters sent by Aretas and the association of letters with messengers throughout this section (Antiquitates Judaicae 16.293–355). Augustus’ rejection of the embassy disallows any chance that the messengers will be effective in apologizing on Herod’s behalf. However, Nicolaus successfully defends Herod—narrated out of sequence at 16.335–350—by impugning the character of Syllaeus through his effective rhetorical skill and by interacting with Augustus regarding Herod’s actions, an opportunity which only Nicolaus’ presence can afford. In this case, letters are not sufficient to reconcile Augustus and Herod because the embassy cannot gain admission to Augustus. Herod’s impasse with the princeps is finally broken by the reconciliatory message embodied in his messenger.

Claudius and Agrippa

Table 2.
Antiquitates Judaicae 19 Bellum Judaicum 2 Bellum Judaicum 5
[326] Τὰ δὲ τῶν Ἱεροσολύμων τείχη τὰ πρὸς τὴν καινὴν νεύοντα πόλιν δημοσίαις ὠχύρου δαπάναις, τῇ μὲν εὐρύνων εἰς πλάτος τῇ δὲ εἰς ὕψος ἐξαίρων, κἂν ἐξειργάσατο ταῦτα πάσης ἀνθρωπίνης κρείττονα βίας, εἰ μὴ Μάρσος ὁ τῆς Συρίας ἡγεμὼν Κλαυδίῳ Καίσαρι διὰ γραμμάτων ἐδήλωσε τὸ πραττόμενον. [327] καὶ νεωτερισμόν τινα Κλαύδιος ὑποπτεύσας ἐπέστειλεν Ἀγρίππᾳ μετὰ σπουδῆς παύσασθαι τῆς τῶν τειχῶν ἐξοικοδομήσεως· ὁ δ᾿ ἀπειθεῖν οὐκ ἔκρινεν . . .[338] Ἐν Βηρυτῷ δὲ τελέσας τὰ προειρημένα μετῆλθεν εἰς Τιβεριάδα πόλιν τῆς Γαλιλαίας. ἦν δὲ ἄρα τοῖς ἄλλοις βασιλεῦσιν περίβλεπτος. ἧκε γοῦν παρ’ αὐτὸν Κομμαγηνῆς μὲν βασιλεὺς Ἀντίοχος, Ἐμεσῶν δὲ Σαμψιγέραμος καὶ Κότυς, τῆς μικρᾶς Ἀρμενίας οὗτος ἐβασίλευσεν, καὶ Πολέμων τὴν Πόντου κεκτημένος δυναστείαν Ἡρώδης τε· οὗτος ἀδελφὸς ἦν αὐτοῦ, ἦρχεν δὲ τῆς Χαλκίδος. [339] ὡμίλησε δὲ πᾶσιν κατά τε τὰς ὑποδοχὰς καὶ φιλοφρονήσεις ὡς μάλιστα διαδείξας φρονήσεως ὕψος καὶ διὰ τοῦτό γε δοκεῖν δικαίως τῇ τοῦ βασιλέως παρουσίᾳ τετιμῆσθαι. [340] ἀλλὰ γὰρ τούτων διατριβόντων ἔτι παρ’ αὐτῷ Μάρσος ὁ τῆς Συρίας ἡγεμὼν παρεγένετο. πρὸς Ῥωμαίους οὖν τιμητικὸν τηρῶν ὑπαντησόμενος αὐτῷ τῆς πόλεως ἀπωτέρω σταδίους ἑπτὰ προῆλθεν ὁ βασιλεύς. [341] τοῦτο δὲ ἄρα ἔμελλεν τῆς πρὸς Μάρσον ἀρχὴ γενήσεσθαι διαφορᾶς· συγκαθεζόμενος γὰρ ἐπὶ τῆς ἀπήνης ἐπήγετο τοὺς ἄλλους βασιλέας, Μάρσῳ δ’ ἡ τούτων ὁμόνοια καὶ μέχρι τοσοῦδε φιλία πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὑπωπτεύθη συμφέρειν οὐχ ὑπολαμβάνοντι Ῥωμαίοις δυναστῶν τοσούτων συμφρόνησιν. εὐθὺς οὖν ἑκάστῳ τῶν ἐπιτηδείων τινὰς πέμπων ἐπέστελλεν ἐπὶ τὰ ἑαυτοῦ δίχα μελλήσεως ἀπέρχεσθαι. [342] ταῦτα Ἀγρίππας ἀνιαρῶς ἐξεδέχετο· καὶ Μάρσῳ μὲν ἐκ τούτου διαφόρως ἔσχεν, τὴν ἀρχιερωσύνην δὲ Ματθίαν ἀφελόμενος ἀντ’ αὐτοῦ κατέστησεν ἀρχιερέα Ἐλιωναῖον τὸν τοῦ Κιθαίρου παῖδα. [218] Ταχέως δ’ ὡς ἂν ἐκ τοσαύτης ἀρχῆς πλοῦτος Ἀγρίππᾳ προσέρρει, καὶ τοῖς χρήμασιν αὐτὸς οὐκ εἰς μακρὰν κατεχρήσατο· τηλικοῦτον γὰρ τοῖς Ἱεροσολύμοις περιβαλεῖν ἤρξατο τεῖχος, ἡλίκον ἂν τελεσθὲν ἀνήνυτον Ῥωμαίοις ἐποίησεν τὴν πολιορκίαν. [219] ἀλλ’ ἔφθη πρὶν ὑψῶσαι τὸ ἔργον τελευτήσας ἐν Καισαρείᾳ, βεβασιλευκὼς μὲν ἔτη τρία, πρότερον δὲ τῶν τετραρχιῶν τρισὶν ἑτέροις ἔτεσιν ἀφηγησάμενος. [152] δεομένων οὖν τῶν ταύτῃ σκέπης ὁ πατὴρ τοῦ νῦν βασιλέως καὶ ὁμώνυμος Ἀγρίππας ἄρχεται μὲν οὗ προείπομεν τείχους, δείσας δὲ Κλαύδιον Καίσαρα, μὴ τὸ μέγεθος τῆς κατασκευῆς ἐπὶ νεωτερισμῷ πραγμάτων ὑπονοήσῃ καὶ στάσεως, παύεται θεμελίους μόνον βαλόμενος. [153] καὶ γὰρ οὐδ’ ἂν ἦν ἁλώσιμος ἡ πόλις, εἰ προύκοπτε τὸ τεῖχος ὡς ἤρξατο· λίθοις μὲν γὰρ εἰκοσαπήχεσι τὸ μῆκος καὶ τὸ εὖρος δεκαπήχεσι συνηρμόζετο μήθ’ ὑπορυγῆναι σιδήρῳ ῥᾳδίως μήθ’ ὑπ’ ὀργάνοις διασεισθῆναι δυνάμενον, [154] δέκα δὲ πήχεις αὐτῷ καὶ τὸ τεῖχος ἐπλατύνετο, καὶ τὸ ὕψος πλεῖον μὲν ἄν, ὡς εἰκός, ἔσχε μὴ διακωλυθείσης τῆς τοῦ καταρξαμένου φιλοτιμίας. [155] αὖθις δὲ καίτοι μετὰ σπουδῆς ἐγειρόμενον ὑπὸ Ἰουδαίων εἰς εἴκοσι πήχεις ἀνέστη, καὶ διπήχεις μὲν τὰς ἐπάλξεις, τριπήχεις δὲ τοὺς προμαχῶνας εἶχεν, ὡς τὸ πᾶν ὕψος εἰς εἰκοσιπέντε πήχεις ἀνατετάσθαι.

Agrippa fortified the walls of Jerusalem on the side of the New City at the public expense, increasing both their breadth and height, and he would have made them too strong for any human force had not Marsus, governor of Syria, reported by letter to Claudius Caesar what was being done. Claudius, suspecting a rebellion, earnestly charged Agrippa in a letter to desist from the building of the walls; and Agrippa thought it best not to disobey . . .Having completed the aforesaid ceremonies at Berytus, he went next to Tiberias, a city in Galilee. Now he was evidently admired by the other kings. At any rate, he was visited by Antiochus king of Commagene, Sampsigeramus king of Emesa, and Cotys king of Armenia Minor, as well as by Polemo, who held sway over Pontus, and Herod his brother, who was ruler of Chalcis. His converse with all of them when he entertained and showed courtesies was such as to demonstrate an elevation of sentiment that justified the honor done him by a visit of royalty. It so happened, however, that while he was still entertaining them, Marsus the governor of Syria arrived. The king therefore, to do honor to the Romans, advanced seven furlongs outside the city to meet him. Now this action, as events proved, was destined to be the beginning of a quarrel with Marsus; for Agrippa brought the other kings along with him and sat with them in his carriage; but Marsus was suspicious of such concord and intimate friendship among them. He took it for granted that a meeting of minds among so many chiefs of state was prejudicial to Roman interests. He therefore at once sent some of his associates with an order to each of the kings bidding him set off without delay to his own territory. Agrippa felt very much hurt by this and henceforth was at odds with Marsus. He also deprived Matthias of the high priesthood and appointed Elionaeus the son of Cantherus to be high priest in his stead. From so extensive a realm wealth soon flowed in to Agrippa, nor was he long in expending his riches. For he began to surround Jerusalem with a wall on such a scale as, had it been completed, would have rendered ineffectual all the efforts of the Romans in the subsequent siege. But before the work had reached the projected height, he died at Caesarea, after a reign of three years, to which must be added his previous three years’ tenure of his tetrarchies. Seeing then the residents of this district in need of defense, Agrippa, the father and namesake of the present king, began the above-mentioned wall; but, fearing that Claudius Caesar might suspect from the vast scale of the structure that he had designs of revolution and revolt, he desisted after merely laying the foundations. Indeed the city would have been impregnable, had the wall been continued as it began; for it was constructed of stones twenty cubits long and ten broad, so closely joined that they could scarcely have been undermined with tools or iron or shaken with engines. The wall itself was ten cubits broad, and it would doubtless have attained a greater height than it did, had not the ambition of its founder been frustrated. Subsequently, although hurriedly erected by the Jews, it rose to a height of twenty cubits, besides having battlements of two cubits and bulwarks of three cubits high, bringing the total altitude up to twenty-five cubits.

Reading Marsus’ letter intratextually eliminates a “problem” that has vexed commentators on this passage to the extent that the text has failed to be assumed as a background for the other Marsus text (Antiquitates Judaicae 19.33–342). In contrast to an intratextual approach, some scholars have used a source-critical approach, which assumes that apparently different viewpoints in a text can be explained by positing a non-extant, unified source (i.e. one not comprised of differing viewpoints). This type of source criticism may be useful, but the text can be seen as more coherent than a source-critical reading presupposes. For example, Schwartz suggests that Antiquitates Judaicae 19.326–327 is from a different source, a Roman one he calls “Claudius” (Claud), while the surrounding biographical details originate in a Jewish source that seems to have been similar to “Diaspora novels”; he calls the latter VAgr, the Life of Agrippa. [67] Schwartz analyzes the two substantial Marsus passages (19.326–327; 338–342) together because of their similarities, and argues that the two are from different sources for three reasons: (a) at 19.341 it is claimed that the dispersal of the kings by Marsus is the origin of the enmity between Marsus and Agrippa, though this does not seem to account for the animosity stirred up by the earlier episode of the Jerusalem wall in which Marsus interferes; (b) Josephus in his earlier Bellum Judaicum reports the altercation over the wall only, and neglects the story of the kings. Thus he has found the latter episode in a source that has become available to him after the publication of the Bellum Judaicum; (c) the kings incident is told in terms that “favour” Agrippa, while the terms in the former story do not: in 19.326–327 he is called only “Agrippa.” The kings story stresses his “nobility,” does not invoke imperial suspicions, suggests that Agrippa apparently only wishes to bring glory to Rome, and makes clear that Marsus’ suspicions are unfounded. [68]

Before discussing those three points, it is worth noting a general observation about this kind of source criticism: the methodology of identifying different sources on the basis of incompatible variants assumes that such variants cannot sit together in a single source. Yet that argument starts from the assumption that diverse variants can and do sit together in at least one text—the one we have. There is little {123|124} reason to assume that other texts could not combine exactly those ostensibly incompatible variants when they exist in the text we have.

(b) In the section of Antiquitates Judaicae 19 in which our text is positioned, Agrippa’s life and character are of primary concern. Schwartz’s criticism seems to necessitate, as indeed his analysis demonstrates, that the two stories form a pair and might be expected to come together under the theme of Marsus’ suspicions or some related notion. However, in those sections of the Bellum Judaicum where the wall incident appears, different purposes are in view.

Bellum Judaicum 2.218–219 follows on from a much more truncated account of the Judaean king; the mention of the wall concerns his use of the riches, which come to him from his extensive territory, to build a wall (2.218). The account says that the project is cut short by Agrippa’s death in AD 44 (2.219), and Josephus moves on to his next subject, the return of procurators to Judaea. {124|125}

In Bellum Judaicum 5, Josephus describes the layout of Jerusalem, including its walls, in the context of Titus’ conquest in AD 70. Thus it seems very reasonable to expect that Josephus could have had a source that included both incidents, but that his narrative context called for one and not the other. It would not be unusual for Josephus to have had enough of such material in his already compressed account that the “missing story” simply would not “fit” his purposes or his restrictions.

The account appears to be fairly coherent when one assumes that Josephus here is presenting chronologically ordered events. Read intratextually with Antiquitates Judaicae 19.341–342, the passage at 19.326–327 comes just before a series of chapters, beginning at 19.328, that is out of sequence, and that does not pick up chronologically again until 19.343. This means that the ostensibly problematic explanation for the “beginning” of Agrippa’s troubles with Marsus need not be assumed to ignore the episode that prompts the letter from Claudius, but rather appears to be further explaining the reason that Agrippa and Marsus’ relationship has soured.

If Claudius suddenly suspected Agrippa of dissolving their friendship by staging a rebellion, [73] it would certainly have been a radical shift in Claudian policy as represented throughout Josephus’ narratives. [74] A broader intratextual reading reveals that Claudius, though he was willing to discipline the Jewish community at Alexandria in AD 41, [75] gave plenty of leeway to the Jews so long as they kept the peace as far as they could with the Greeks (Antiquitates Judaicae 19.278–291). Agrippa’s history with individual emperors had been varied, but always with another Roman loyalty in competition: Tiberius neglected Agrippa because he reminded the princeps of his son Drusus (18.146); he was upset because Agrippa showed preference for Gaius (18.167–169, 187–192). Such incidents involved personal sentiments and Roman politics and not questions of loyalty toward Rome. Agrippa’s history with Claudius does not seem to have had the same nuances, as far as Josephus is concerned: Agrippa somehow participated in his accession to the principate, and was lavishly rewarded. Josephus presents it this way in a speech by Claudius in which he calls Agrippa and Herod of Chalcis φιλτάτων μοι (“my best friends,” 19.288). Indeed, Josephus indicates that Marsus’ predecessor, Petronius, had enjoyed close friendship with Agrippa: twice in the same speech, Josephus presents Petronius referring to Agrippa as τιμιώτατός μοι (“my most honored {126|127} friend,” 19.309, 310). And Marsus, who appears only four times in the Antiquitates Judaicae, [76] is replaced to honor the memory of Agrippa, who had died the previous year and had requested that Claudius replace Marsus with someone else (20.1).

Numismatic evidence, even if it is difficult to interpret because it could simply have been conventional, may suggest that the audience had some extra-textual knowledge, which they may have been able to apply in some way to make the question of Agrippa’s loyalty clearer. The reverse of an issue of AD 43–44 has the inscription, ΑΓΡΙΠΠΑΣ ΦΙΛΟΚΑΙΣΑΡ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΥΣ ΜΕΓΑΣ ‘Great King Agrippa, friend of Caesar’. [77] By consciously emphasizing his relations with the princeps, Agrippa could be especially seeking to prove his loyalty as a result of some infidelity. Agrippa’s coins from the mints at Caesarea Paneas and Tiberias under Gaius in AD 38 and 41 do not have the ΦΙΛΟΚΑΙΣΑΡ inscription (AJC 1, 2, 3). It seems to be only with the accession of Claudius that this particular inscription appears (AJC 4); the coin is the third issue of the same year, but is the first that does not bear the image of Gaius or a member of his family. The themes on undated coins (AJC 5, 5a, 5b) indicate a minting later than the third minting of AD 41, yet probably reflect Agrippa’s reinstatement by Claudius at his accession. These coins, as well as their successors from the mint at Caearea, carry the theme of Agrippa as friend of Claudius (AJC 6, 8, 9, 10). Thus the coins may indicate some perceived problem with Claudius that Agrippa was seeking to overcome. However, his coins minted under Gaius, though they do not have the ΦΙΛΟΚΑΙΣΑΡ inscription, carry other “Romanizing” symbolism, i.e. the busts of Gaius (AJC 2) and Antonia the grandmother of Gaius (AJC 3), so it may be that the inscription in question is simply a new way of expressing the same loyalty to Rome. In any case, an early rupture in Agrippa’s relations with the princeps is difficult to imagine: Claudius’ trust would seem to have been indicated with the bestowal of vaster territory at that emperor’s accession in AD 41.

Our text has it that Agrippa stops fortifying the walls because an instruction arriving from the princeps—apparently by letter—earnestly calls on him to do so. This differs from Bellum Judaicum 5, in which Josephus seems to give two reasons—neither of which includes a letter—for Agrippa’s failure to follow through with the wall: he fears that Claudius will suspect from the greatness of the structure (τὸ μέγεθος τῆς κατασκευῆς, 5.152) that he was planning a rebellion and an uprising, and that this ambition was prevented (διακωλυθείσης, 5.154). That some unspecified agent hindered him could be confirmed by the middle/passive present indicative verb at 5.152, παύεται ‘he was stopped’ or ‘he stopped’ after laying only the foundations (θεμελίους μόνον βαλόμενος). Here an explanatory note is added that the city would have been nearly impenetrable if the wall had been continued. Bellum Judaicum 2 offers the most divergent explanation, that Agrippa’s death (τελευτήσας) came first (ἔφθη) before he raised up the work (πρὶν ὑψῶσαι τὸ ἔργον, 2.219). The reasons for the termination of Agrippa’s project having less to do with a direct order from Claudius in the Bellum Judaicum may simply reflect that Agrippa II was still alive when the Bellum Judaicum was written, and so Josephus presented Agrippa I’s apparent misstep in a rather vague way. [79] In any case, it is difficult to see how Agrippa could have carried out what appears to have been an extensive building plan, requiring some expenditure of public funds, thorough plans, and quality materials, only for the whole scheme to strike him as appearing rebellious (as in Bellum Judaicum 5).

Regardless of what lies behind this lack of details, the salient issue remains that the Bellum Judaicum’s account is probably less satisfying {128|129} to most readers: Agrippa, apparently having poorly conceived a major building project, suddenly realizes how it may look and stops building. By contrast, in our Antiquitates Judaicae text, the letter creates a sense of proportion: Claudius instructs by letter, Agrippa responds submissively. The Antiquitates Judaicae plays to what would probably have appeared to ancient readers as a plausible narrative reason for the halting of Agrippa’s building project, an embedded epistolary intratext with specific instructions to do so.

The letters in the Antiquitates Judaicae 19 example demonstrate that, within any one text, letters can fall into either of the loose categories I proposed earlier in this chapter. The second letter, from Claudius, apparently prevents in informal terms the dissolution of the relationship between Claudius and Agrippa, while the first letter from Marsus advances the narrative by allowing the legate to collaborate with Claudius regarding a matter in the provinces.

Cambyses and the Jews

Another important embedded letter demonstrating a relational misfire and damaging the impression that the Jews had positive foreign relations throughout their history appears in Antiquitates Judaicae 11. The text employs two letters—one to reinforce a relationship by facilitating collaboration and a second to alter an apparently long-standing relationship between the Jews and the Achaemenid dynasty. It is paralleled by biblical material that employs embedded letters in similar ways.

Though his father Cyrus had cooperated with the Jews by allowing them to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, Cambyses succumbs to pressure from his satraps to stop the Jews from doing so. In this text, Josephus presents embedded letters that develop the story line of Achaemenid opposition to the Jews. Because the example is from the section of the Antiquitates Judaicae that recasts biblical history, much of the following discussion will compare Josephus’ version with that of the LXX and Hebrew Bible. This comparison will be especially focused, as the episode represents the most substantial example of an embedded letter from the first half of the Antiquitates Judaicae discussed in this study.

Olson image 4a

That Josephus revises 1 Esdras is not unusual for this episode. For example, Ezra 4:12 has Olson image 6a(“the Jews who came up from you to us”), and 1 Esdras 2:17 has Ἰουδαῖοι ἀναβάντες παρ ̓ ὑμῶν πρὸς ἡμας (“the Jews who were coming up from you to us”). Josephus renders the ideas thus: Ἰουδαῖοι οἱ εἰς Βαβυλῶνα ἀναχθέντες ἐληλύθασιν εἰς τὴν ἡμετέραν (“the Jews who, coming up to Babylon, have come to our country,” Antiquitates Judaicae 11.22). Josephus drops the personal references (“from you”) for the geographical location (“to Babylon”). Moreover, he shifts the idea of the movement of the Jews from the locality of the king to the locality of the letter writers. This he replaces with a specification of historical details. A petitionary letter would have needed such explanations only if the letter were written much later than Cyrus’ manumission of the Jews in 538 BC. But Josephus puts the letter between 529 and 522, rather than in the 465–425 timeframe of the biblical texts.

The text under review is provided in Table 3 (pages 134–135). [92] {133|136}

Table 3.
Antiquitates Judaicae 11 Antiquitates Judaicae 11
[21] Καμβύσου δὲ τοῦ Κύρου παιδὸς τὴν βασιλείαν παραλαβόντος οἱ ἐν Συρίᾳ καὶ Φοινίκῃ καὶ Ἀμμανίτιδι καὶ Μωαβίτιδι καὶ Σαμαρείᾳ γράφουσιν ἐπιστολὴν Καμβύσῃ δηλοῦσαν τάδε· [22] “δέσποτα, οἱ παῖδές σου Ῥάθυμος ὁ πάντα τὰ πραττόμενα γράφων καὶ Σεμέλιος ὁ γραμματεὺς καὶ οἱ τῆς βουλῆς τῆς ἐν Συρίᾳ καὶ Φοινίκῃ κριταί. γινώσκειν σε δεῖ, βασιλεῦ, ὅτι Ἰουδαῖοι οἱ εἰς Βαβυλῶνα ἀναχθέντες ἐληλύθασιν εἰς τὴν ἡμετέραν καὶ τήν τε πόλιν τὴν ἀποστάτιν καὶ πονηρὰν οἰκοδομοῦσιν καὶ τὰς ἀγορὰς αὐτῆς καὶ ἐπισκευάζουσιν τὰ τείχη καὶ ναὸν ἀνεγείρουσιν. [23] ἴσθι μέντοι γε τούτων γενομένων οὔτε φόρους αὐτοὺς τελεῖν ὑπομενοῦντας οὔτε δὲ ὑπακούειν ἐθελήσοντας, ἀλλὰ καὶ βασιλεῦσιν ἀντιστήσονται καὶ ἄρχειν μᾶλλον ἢ ὑπακούειν ἐθελήσουσιν. [24] ἐνεργουμένων οὖν τῶν περὶ τὸν ναὸν καὶ σπουδαζομένων καλῶς ἔχειν ἔδοξεν ἡμῖν γράψαι σοι, βασιλεῦ, καὶ μὴ περιιδεῖν, ὅπως ἐπισκέψῃ τὰ τῶν πατέρων σου βιβλία· εὑρήσεις γὰρ ἐν αὐτοῖς ἀποστάτας καὶ τῶν βασιλέων ἐχθροὺς Ἰουδαίους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν, ἣ διὰ τοῦτο καὶ νῦν ἠρημώθη.[25] ἔδοξε δ’ ἡμῖν καὶ τοῦτό σοι δηλῶσαι ἀγνοούμενον ἴσως, ὅτι τῆς πόλεως οὕτως συνοικισθείσης καὶ τὸν κύκλον τῶν τειχῶν ἀπολαβούσης ἀποκλείεταί σοι ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἐπὶ κοίλην Συρίαν καὶ Φοινίκην.” [26] Ἀναγνοὺς δὲ ὁ Καμβύσης τὴν ἐπιστολὴν καὶ φύσει πονηρὸς ὢν κινεῖται πρὸς τὰ δεδηλωμένα καὶ γράφει τάδε λέγων· “βασιλεὺς Καμβύσης Ῥαθύμῳ τῷ γράφοντι τὰ προσπίπτοντα καὶ Βεελζέμῳ καὶ Σεμελίῳ γραμματεῖ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς τοῖς συντασσομένοις καὶ οἰκοῦσιν ἐν Σαμαρείᾳ καὶ Φοινίκῃ τάδε λέγει. [27] ἀναγνοὺς τὰ πεμφθέντα παρ’ ὑμῶν γράμματα ἐκέλευσα ἐπισκέψασθαι τὰ τῶν προγόνων μου βιβλία, καὶ εὑρέθη ἡ πόλις ἐχθρὰ βασιλεῦσιν ἀεὶ γεγενημένη, καὶ στάσεις καὶ πολέμους οἱ ἐνοικοῦντες πραγματευσάμενοι, καὶ βασιλεῖς αὐτῶν ἔγνωμεν δυνατοὺς καὶ βιαίους φορολογήσαντας κοίλην Συρίαν καὶ Φοινίκην. [28] ἐγὼ τοίνυν προσέταξα μὴ συγχωρεῖν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις οἰκοδομεῖν τὴν πόλιν, μὴ ἐπὶ πλέον αὐξηθῇ τὰ τῆς κακίας αὐτῶν, ᾗ χρώμενοι πρὸς τοὺς βασιλεῖς διατετελέκασιν.” But, when Cyrus’ son Cambyses took over the royal power, the people in Syria, Phoenicia, Amman, Moab, and Samaria wrote a letter to Cambyses setting forth these things: [22] “To our sovereign from his servants Rathymos, the recorder of all things that happen, Semelios, the scribe, and the judges of the council of Syria and Phoenicia. You know, O King, that the Jews who were carried off to Babylon have come to our land and are building their rebellious and mischievous city and its marketplaces, and are repairing the walls and erecting a temple. [23] Know, therefore, that, if these things are done, they will neither consent to pay tribute nor be willing to obey, but will oppose the kings and seek rather to rule than to obey. [24] Since, then, work is being done on the temple and zealously carried forward, we have thought it proper to write you, O King, and not to overlook these things, in order that you may examine the records of your fathers, for you will find in them that the Jews have been rebels and enemies of the kings, as also their city, which for that reason has been laid waste until now. [25] We have also thought it proper to make this known to you, lest you may perhaps be ignorant of it, namely that, if the city is thus refounded and has its circuit of walls restored, the road to Coele-Syria and Phoenicia will be closed to you.” [26] When Cambyses read this letter, being naturally evil, he was aroused by its contents and wrote as follows: “Thus says King Cambyses to Rathymos, the recorder of events, and Beelzemos and Semelios, the scribe, and the rest of their colleagues resident in Samaria and Phoenicia. [27] After reading the letter sent by you, I ordered the records of my forefathers to be examined, and it was found that that city has always been hostile to the kings and that the inhabitants have been engaged in rebellions and wars; and we have learned that their kings, being powerful and violent men, have levied tribute on Coele-Syria and Phoenicia. [28] I have therefore given orders that the Jews shall not be permitted to rebuild the city, lest the amount of mischief that they have continually contrived against the kings be further increased.”

Early in Book 11 of the Antiquitates Judaicae, Josephus takes up the events surrounding the return of the Jews from their seventy-year Babylonian exile. The manumission is occasioned by the accession of Cyrus, whom Josephus sees as the divine agent of the Jewish God. This fortunate turn of events comes from God himself, as he has appointed Cyrus king: Κῦρος ὁ βασιλεὺς λέγει· ἐπεί με ὁ θεὸς ὁ μέγιστος τῆς οἰκουμένυς ἀπέδεξει βασιλέα … (“King Cyrus says: since God the Most High appointed me king of the inhabited world …,” Antiquitates Judaicae 11.3).

Cyrus is convinced that the Jewish God is the “highest god,” Josephus says, by reading the Hebrew prophet Isaiah (11.5); from this text he also is persuaded to allow the Jews to return to their homeland (εἰς τὴν αὐτῶν πατρίδα) and to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple (ἀναστῆσαί τε τὴν πόλιν ̔Ιεροσόλυμα καὶ τὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ναόν, 11.6). Following through on his promise (11.7), Cyrus writes a letter to his satraps that Josephus quotes directly (πέμπει … ἐπιστολὴν … Κῦρον τάδε λέγουσαν, 11.12). When the Jews return and begin building, they face opposition from the Chuthaeans, settlers in Samaria under the Assyrian Salmanesses (11.19); these Chuthaeans convince the satraps and officials by bribes (χρήμασι) to hinder the Jews’ progress (ἐμποδίζειν τοὺς Ἰουδαίους). Cyrus, busy fighting other wars, remains ignorant of his officials’ subsequent inattention and carelessness (ἀμελὲς καὶ ῥᾴθυμον, 11.20). Cyrus dies in battle and is succeeded by his son Cambyses (11.21). The narrative has an inconsistency here: the Jews seem to keep on building despite the hindrances from Persian officials (of which Cyrus is ignorant). We know this because a letter is sent by the people of surrounding territories to the new king Cambyses with a warning that the Jews are building (11.21). That letter is quoted by Josephus with what appears to be a direct discourse formula: [93] γράφουσιν ἐπιστολὴν Καμβύσῃ δηλοῦσαν τάδε [94] (“they wrote a letter to Cambyses setting forth these things”).

The letter writers inform the king that the Jews are rebuilding their rebellious and evil city (τήν τε πόλιν τὴν ἀποστάτιν καὶ πονηρὰν) and its marketplaces; they are repairing its walls (τὰ τείχη) and the Temple (Antiquitates Judaicae 11.22). As a result, they write, the Jews will refuse to pay tribute (φόρους) and refuse to obey; they will rebel against kings (βασιλεῦσιν ἀντιστήσονται) and rule rather than obey (11.23). Perhaps in contrast to Cyrus, the writers wish Cambyses not to overlook these things so that he will inspect the records of his fathers (τὰ τῶν πατέρων σου βιβλία) to see that they are in fact rebels and enemies of the kings (ἀποστάτας καὶ τῶν βασιλέων ἐχθροὺς, 11.24), which is why, they say, Jerusalem has been in ruins. The risk Cambyses takes if he allows them to carry on, the writers assert, is that the road to Coele-Syria and Phoenicia will be cut off to him.

Cambyses reads (ἀναγνοὺς) the letter (ἐπιστολὴν), and, moved by its contents, responds with a letter that Josephus quotes: γράφει τάδε λέγων (11.26). In reaction to their letter (τὰ πεμφθέντα παρ ̓ ὑμῶν γράμματα), Cambyses issues an inquiry into the records of his forebears (τὰ τῶν προγόνων μου βιβλία). He discovers that the city had indeed been hostile to the kings and that the people had been engaged in factionalism and wars (στάσεις καὶ πολέμους). Further, their kings had been powerful and violent, and had collected tribute (φορολογήσαντας) from Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (11.27). Because of this, and so that their evil qualities will not increase toward future kings, he orders that {138|139} the Jews no longer be allowed to rebuild the city. From 11.29, the narrator’s voice is restored, and the story continues.

Josephus changes the introductory formula of Cambyses’ letter. He ignores the 1 Esdras narrator’s rhetorical framing of the letter (τότε ἀντέγραψεν), and introduces his own introductory remarks (Ἀναγνοὺς δὲ ὁ Καμβύσης τὴν ἐπιστολὴν…γράφει τάδε λέγων). 1 Esdras features a rather bare introduction, “he wrote back,” and does not explain the reason why Cambyses responds as he does. The 1 Esdras and Ezra narratives seem to reflect more poorly on the peoples surrounding Judaea than on the king himself. After all, the divine appointment of the Achaemenid rulers is the reason that the Jews were freed from Babylon in the first place.

Indeed, Josephus, following the biblical tradition, emphasizes the favor with which the Achaemenids looked upon Jews. This fits well with Josephus’ general aim to reflect the Jews’ positive standing. Books 14 and 16 of the Antiquitates Judaicae demonstrate this overwhelmingly: decrees of Roman officials and local magistrates and councils, some in the form of letters, are paraded as evidence one after another to illustrate the happy relationship between the Jews and Rome (14.147, 170, 225–227, 230, 233, 235, 241, 244, 247, 265).

The problem with this picture in the text is Cambyses, whose behavior Josephus appears anxious to explain—more anxious than 1 Esdras and Ezra. Thus Josephus gives his readers a reason to be suspicious of Cambyses. Tucked between Cambyses’ “reading” action and his quoted response is his characterization: φύσει πονηρὸς ὤν (11.26). Neither 1 Esdras nor Ezra has anything regarding the moral nature of the ruler who disallows the Jews’ building program in Jerusalem.

One possible intertext here is Herodotus, [101] who characterizes Cambyses in a similar way. It is not necessary to recount all the biographical details Herodotus includes, except to note the phrase οἷα ἐὼν ὑπομαργότερος (“being naturally a little mad,” Herodotus 3.29). It is possible that both he and Josephus are following a received tradition about Cambyses, but Josephus expresses the same idea that Herodotus does, only with different vocabulary. The difference between ὑπομαργότερος and πονηρὸς can be explained in that {139|140} Josephus was probably familiar with the broader account of Cambyses in Herodotus, and that Cambyses was, in Josephus’ estimation of his many acts (Herodotus 3.16, 3.27–28), evil. In any case, it is apparent that Josephus explains the exception presented by the letters in this episode in what is otherwise taken to be a traditionally supportive Achaemenid monarchy with a personal, moral caveat. As an intertext, the Herodotean Cambyses is useful for a more general interpretation: good rulers have always supported the Jews—a recurrent theme in the Antiquitates Judaicae. [102] Read in the context of the whole Antiquitates Judaicae text, Cambyses’ letter reveals him to be misinformed about the true nature of the Jews, even in light of the recent history of his imperial predecessors, while the framing of that letter gives a moral explanation of Cambyses’ behavior as well. Here, rather than resolving the issue explicitly in the narrative as he did with the letters of Augustus and Claudius, Josephus subtly characterizes Cambyses to dismiss this foreign-relations letter as unusual and therefore unrepresentative of the norm. Josephus’ slight tweak of the source reveals a sophistication in his use of embedded letters that transcends the basic function of letters as tools to develop relationships.

Closing Distance and Time Gaps

In his preface, Xenophon emphasizes the great expansion of Cyrus’ empire (1.4), and the many nations that willingly obey him (1.5). Just before narrating Cyrus’ death, and following the explanation of Cyrus’ strategy of using satraps to govern (ἐδόκει αὐτῷ σατράπας ἤδη πέμπειν ἐπὶ τὰ κατεστραμμένα ἔθνη, 8.6.1), [106] Xenophon reveals the contrivance (μηχάνημα) by which Cyrus manages the magnitude of his empire (τὸ μέγεθος τῆς ἀρχῆς, 6.17). It is the institution of a postal system that allows him to perceive quickly (ἐξ οὗ ταχέως ᾐσθάνετο) what is happening, regardless of how far the people might be from him (τὰ πάμπολυ ἀπέχοντα ὅπως ἔχοι). He builds postal stations (ἱππῶνας) at such distances as a horse can ride at full strength for a day and not “break down.” He appoints a suitable person to receive the letters that are delivered (ἔταξε τὸν ἐπιτήδειον παραδέχεσθαι τὰ φερόμενα γράμματα), to forward them (παραδιδόναι), and to take in exhausted riders and send out new ones. Some say, Xenophon adds, that when the service runs day and night, it “gets over the ground faster than cranes” [107] (θᾶττον τῶν γεράνων ταύτην τὴν πορείαν ἁνύτειν, 6.18). The speed is impressive to Xenophon (6.18), of course, because of the great space courier-riders would have had to traverse. Herodotus notes the same system of messengers (Τούτων δὲ τῶν ἀγγέλων, Herodotus 8.98) {141|142} under Xerxes and considers it a Persian invention (Πέρσῃσι ἐξεύρηται, 8.98).

We may see the similarities between the system described by Xenophon and the second embedded letter in the Josephan text, the letter that overtakes Gaius’ ultimatum letter. That letter is delivered in an ideal way: it encounters no delay and involves no problems. Like Cyrus’ letters, it reduces the time between writing and delivery, and in a more effective way than the letter Gaius dispatches before his death.

The Xenophon text idealizes epistolary communication, and by doing so presents letters as a secure, swift, and reliable mode of exchange. In fact, the Cyropaedia presents Cyrus’ postal system as though it enables him to be omnipresent throughout his imperial space. Readerly expectations of the spatiotemporal relationships between letters and the surrounding narrative (events throughout the {142|143} empire regarding which Cyrus would have nearly immediate knowledge) would thus tend to be similar to the reality of epistolary communication as Euripides presents it in the Iphigenia in Tauris, where a letter is handed to the recipient in the sender’s presence.

The more particular question with which this section is concerned is how the spatiotemporal orientation of letters relates to the space and time of other parts of Josephus’ texts, particularly the broader episodes in which the epistolary intratexts appear. One text in Josephus where this question is particularly interesting is the parallel material in the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae in which Gaius attempts to install a statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem. He attempts to do so by epistolary dictum, but a number of factors complicate the situation, with the result that two conflicting letters are in play at once. The efficacy of each letter is contingent upon the time frame of the letter itself, and the timing of the deliveries of the letters depends, of course, on the spatial gap that must be closed between sender and receiver.

The basic structural reality underlying an intratextual reading of the spatial and temporal orientation of letters and their embedding narratives—that letters are written in a different time frame from that in which they are read or quoted in a narrative, and involve a time lapse as they close a spatial gap—may strike one as an obvious consideration. After all, ancient writers who mention a spatial gap are simply acknowledging an everyday reality of embodied existence: if one person is in a different place from another person, closing the gap between them with a letter is not a striking phenomenon but a matter of fact. Since it is a commonplace that letters close spatial gaps and that time lapses while a letter closes space, it should be remembered that ancient authors notes that space can be conceptualized as more than a passive fact of life. [111] Specifically, space—its extent and contents—features as an active agent, as Herodotus treats the influence of space on the Persians. Cambyses confronts the horrors of space on his impulsive campaign against the Ethiopians: after only covering a fraction of the space that separates his army from the Ethiopians, Cambyses runs out of supplies, and his troops resort to eating pack animals and even to {143|144} cannibalism by lots (3.25–26). The dynamics between the Persians and space are summarized as follows by Katherine Clarke: [112]

The Persians cannot simply overcome a passive environment by drinking rivers dry, spoiling and diverting streams ([Herodotus] 7.21; 9.49; 7.128). The battle between Persians and the environment is far more evenly matched than this. Mardonius had previously lost 20,000 men in a storm off Athos (6.44); the Persians retreating after Artimisium were stuck by storms (8.12); those approaching Delphi were hit by rocks falling from Parnassus and thunderbolts at the shrine of Athene Pronaos (8.37). By contrast, nature could be a good ally to the potential victims of Persian imperialism.

These “almost magical dimensions” to Xerxes’ fall illustrate well that space can be an active agent, [
113] one that may figure prominently in battle and therefore in a historical narrative.

Josephus not only demonstrates that the spatial and temporal difference between the letter and the embedding narrative can be played on in interesting ways, but he treats that difference alternately in parallel narratives. In my worked examples from Josephus, a double dynamic is in play. Not only do the spatial and temporal dimsensions of the narrative act on the letter, but the spatial and temporal aspects of the letter also alter action in the narrative in significant ways. By reading the letters intratextually, the examination of how the epistolary portions of text relate to other portions and to the narrative as {145|146} a whole allows the reader to see how the space and time represented by the letters are a dynamic force that impinges on the action of the narrative.

Gaius’ Temple installation

The letters that appear in Josephus’ narratives of Gaius’ attempt to install his statue in the Jerusalem Temple demonstrate the complex relationship that embedded letters could have with other textual elements and the whole text. [132] The Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae versions of the story differ somewhat; I will summarize each and then discuss the differences that are relevant to my discussion of the intratextuality of spatial and temporal issues in letters and their embedding narratives. In Bellum Judaicum 2, Josephus uses the incident to illustrate Gaius’ desire to be considered a god and to be called {147|148} as such (ὥστε θεὸν ἑαυτὸν καὶ δοκεῖν βούλεσθαι καὶ καλεῖσθαι …, 2.184–185). [133] After Gaius sends his order to Petronius, legatus of Syria, the Jews assemble themselves and beg Petronius to respect their laws. Petronius gives up his mission briefly to persuade the Jews that erecting the statue is essential to being Roman subjects. The crowds gather in the plain of coastal Ptolemais (2.192); after speaking to the crowds, he travels to Tiberias (2.193) in the eastern extremity of Galilee to meet the elders there. After volleying arguments with the elders with no success, Petronius dismisses them (2.198). Eventually, Petronius capitulates and sends a letter to Gaius indicating the Jews’ refusal to allow the statue to be installed in the Temple (2.202). Responding to the letter, Gaius writes back in no measured terms (ταύταις ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς οὐ σφόδρα μετρίως ἀντέγραψεν ὁ Γάιος, 2.203) with threats to kill Petronius if he disobeys his orders. However (ἀλλά), it so happens that the bearers of the message are weather bound for three months at sea (τούτων γραμματοφόρους συνέβη χειμασθῆναι τρεῖς μῆνας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ), while others messengers announcing the death of Gaius have safe sailing (τὸν δὲ Γαΐου θάνατον ἄλλοι καταγγέλλοντες εὐπλόουν, 2.203). Fortunately for the Jews and himself, Petronius receives the second letter 27 days before the first one.

Before a more detailed discussion of Josephus’ texts covering this event, it should be noted briefly that Josephus is not the only author, indeed not the only Jewish author, to have made spatial and temporal issues important in his account of this story. Philo of Alexandria also has a version, Embassy to Gaius, in which these are prominent narrative elements. For example, between the Jews’ pleas for mercy (229–242) and strong characterizations of the Jewish elders and Petronius (243), there is a long delay in the text as Petronius deliberates (244–253), with an omniscient narrator describing his thoughts. He finally orders that a letter be written to Gaius (κελεύει γράφεσθαι τὰς ἐπιστολὰς) and employs messengers who know the shortcuts along the journey (τῶν κατὰ τὰς ὁδοιπορίας ἐπιτομῶν, 254). The journey takes no time whatsoever in the narrative: they arrive in the next clause and deliver the letter. Gaius delivers a speech after reading the letter (255–258), waits a short (μικρὸν) time, and then sends a letter in reply (258–260). It is here that Agrippa appears in Philo’s account (261); Agrippa knows nothing of the content of the letters, having been sent earlier and later (ἤ πρότερον ἤ ὕστερον) by Gaius, but when he learns of Gaius’ wishes {148|149} (261–265), Philo describes his distress thoroughly (266–267), noting that he changes varying shades in that very moment (ἐν ταὐτῷ, 266). Philo narrates “as it happens” (ἤδη) the convulsions Agrippa experiences (267). And since he has to be taken home because of his condition, Agrippa writes a letter (δέλτον) to Gaius (276). [134] The account is much more detailed than Josephus’ narratives, because it is much longer, but the amount of subtlety that Josephus works into his account is less marked in Philo in proportion to his shorter length, as the following discussion will attempt to demonstrate.

The basic outline in the Antiquitates Judaicae regarding the timing of Gaius’ letter is similar to the Bellum Judaicum version. The couriers with Gaius’ final orders to Petronius are delayed, and a second message regarding Gaius’ death overtakes his letter. There are, however, differences in detail between the accounts that are important for understanding the nuances in how narrative space and time relative to the letter are treated in the Antiquitates Judaicae. To that effect, Gaius’ order to install his statue in the Jerusalem Temple has different motives in the Antiquitates Judaicae and Bellum Judaicum. While in the Bellum Judaicum it comes as a result of Gaius’ divine aspirations (above), in the Antiquitates Judaicae, Gaius is angered by the Jewish delegation from Alexandria, so he sends Petronius with a large force into Judaea to set up his statue in the Temple, either peacefully if he is to be so received or by force if he is resisted. An exchange occurs between Petronius and the Jews similar to that occurring in the Bellum Judaicum, though with more detail in the Antiquitates Judaicae (18.263–283). Petronius is persuaded by the Jewish delegation and by a miraculous rainfall after clear skies and a drought (18.285), and the Syrian legate sends the details to Gaius (πρὸς τὸν Γάιον … ἔγραψεν, 18.287).

The details regarding Josephus’ use of Agrippa here are important for my discussion of letters because they raise an additional temporal issue in the Antiquitates Judaicae account. Agrippa’s speech to Gaius requires Gaius to grant the request it contains. The narrative of the banquet (18.289–98) builds up to the statement at its end that Gaius is obliged to do as Agrippa asks because Agrippa courts him (ἅμα τε τῇ θεραπείᾳ, 18.299). So the narrative would have the audience think that the plot must turn out as Agrippa wishes. However, this shift would present a dramatic change from the Bellum Judaicum plot, where Gaius threatens Petronius and issues a final order to install the statue. The temporal and spatial issues hinge on Gaius’ threatening command, and {150|151} the time frame of the letter turns out to be significantly different from that of the narrative. In fact, the letter ends up being from a different era, since Gaius’ death renders his order no longer binding. A second set of messengers heralding Gaius’ death are permitted to overtake the first couriers and free Petronius of his obligation as legate of Gaius. Agrippa’s involvement in the Antiquitates Judaicae story requires him to answer an additional conundrum: why does Gaius insist on his statue being installed, an order that is clearly against Agrippa’s request that Gaius’ honor binds him to grant? Josephus’ solution is to toy with the plot by adding a temporal wrinkle, πρότερον ἢ. The content of Gaius’ reply letter to Petronius, which reflects Gaius’ compliance with Agrippa’s wishes, is current only before Gaius realizes what is really going on in Judaea, and decides against leniency. [138]

The reason for the delay of Gaius’ letter until it is nullified by his death is handled in somewhat different terms in each account. In the Bellum Judaicum, the letter is delayed at sea (ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, 2.203). In Antiquitates Judaicae, the voyage (πλόος) is delayed. In both cases, space acts and, by acting, affects the narrative. Whatever the meteorological technicalities, the sea does not cooperate with Gaius’ delivery schedule. It presents an obstacle—probably a storm—that does not allow the letter carriers to speed along on their journey. A second letter overtakes Gaius’ letter and preempts it. Moreover, the semantics of epistolary timing are handled differently in each account: time is more specific in the Bellum Judaicum than in the Antiquitates Judaicae. The bearers of Gaius’ threatening message are delayed for three months by weather at sea (τρεῖς μῆνας ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, Bellum Judaicum 2.203). Furthermore, the message regarding Gaius’ death arrives 27 days earlier than the first letter (ἑπτὰ καὶ εἴκοσιν ἡμέραις). Compare these with the more general terms in the Antiquitates Judaicae: the letter with news of Gaius’ death arrives, and, not much later (μετ’ οὐ πολὺ), the letter ordering Petronius to take his own life follows.

After several exchanges with Petronius (2.192–201), the Judaeans prevail. Their victory is expressed, in fact, in spatial terms. As a result of the Judaeans’ arguments, Petronius collects his troops and leaves Ptolemais for Antioch (παραλαβὼν τὴν στρατιὰν ἐκ τῆς Πτολεμαΐδος ὑπέστρεψεν εἰς τὴν Ἀντιόχειαν, 2.201).

In contrast to the Antiquitates Judaicae, in the Bellum Judaicum account the letter from Petronius regarding these events brings together both spatial and temporal issues. The narration of the letter’s dispatch highlights Petronius’ new location in Antioch and his absence from Judaea. It is from Antioch that Petronius writes the report of his activities (ἔνθεν … ἐπέστελλεν Καίσαρι). In further contrast to the Antiquitates Judaicae, he writes the dispatch “immediately” (εὐθέως, 2.202). Based on previous correspondence with Gaius and his ensuing negotiations with the Judaeans, Petronius chooses to withdraw. This withdrawal is striking because it follows the dramatic arrival of the legate and his troops, discussed above, to force the Judaeans to comply with Gaius’ wishes. Gaius’ epistolary insistence that the command be carried out regardless of the consequences necessitates the adverb that characterizes Petronius’ dispatch of his letter to Gaius: given the importance of the situation, Petronius must respond immediately.

It is not clear precisely why the Bellum Judaicum narrative provides more specifics relative to the letter than does that in the Antiquitates Judaicae, even though the degree of detail remains consistent with other details in each narrative. Based on these accounts, details about the spatial relationships between the parent-texts and the epistolary intratexts tend to align with details about the temporal relationships between the parent-text and intratext. And while these details are {153|154} more specific in the Bellum Judaicum, other elements, such as the extensive involvement of Agrippa, are prominent in the Antiquitates Judaicae account.

The Gaius text is a foil to Xenophon’s idealized description of Cyrus’ postal system: Gaius has trouble closing a gap, and the sender of macabre news, whoever he may be (but presumably of a lower rank), has much more success. Another approach to this issue is found in one of Josephus’ most valuable sources for the life of Herod, Nicolaus of Damascus, who is optimistic about the delivery of letters in his biography of Augustus. Nicolaus’ Augustan biography, of which only fragments survive, treats the delivery of epistolary communication in an idealistic way but nuances the spatiotemporal relationship between letters and the parent-text. Embedded letters help to develop Octavian’s response to Caesar’s murder. The letters and surrounding narrative explore spatial and temporal issues in a straightforward way as Octavian waits for further news. On another level, the temporal and spatial framework of the letters also relates in remarkable ways to the narrative itself. After describing how Octavian receives the initial news by letter from his mother, Nicolaus narrates how Octavian accepts soldiers (46), sails to Calabria (47), and meets in Lupia some who had attended Caesar’s funeral. Octavian receives from them a report on Caesar’s burial (48), the political situation (49), and the reaction of the people (50). Upon hearing about Caesar’s bloody tunic and his corpse, Octavian weeps, Nicolaus says, from his memory of Caesar (51).

After this, Octavian delays action further while he waits for letters from Atia and his trusted friends in Rome (ποτε ἀνέμενεν ἕτερα γράμματα παρὰ τῆς μητρὸς καὶ τῶν ἐν Ῥώμῃ φίλων, 51) to verify the truth of the story he has heard. The letters include another from Atia and one from Philippus. Here, another level of spatiotemporal relationship becomes evident between embedded letters and the parent-text. Atia’s letter is introduced with a similar formula as at 38; the letter arrives without reference to a messenger (Ἧκε δ’ αὐτῷ καὶ παρὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἐπιστολὴ ἐν ᾗ ἐγέγραπτο, 52). For Philippus’ letter, Nicolaus varies the epistolary reference by mentioning only the epistolary action of sending (Ἀπέστειλε δ’ αὐτῷ καὶ ὁ πατρῳὸς Φίλιππος, 53). Nicolaus then narrates Octavian’s response to Philippus’ letter, and concludes by reporting that Octavian writes (γράφων) his thoughts to Philippus, who is not persuaded. Nicolaus deftly incorporates his mother and Philippus’ letter writing, Octavian’s state of mind and his intentions, and Philippus’ reaction to Octavian’s letter. Octavian’s {154|155} letter reflects his thoughts, which are articulated as a direct response to Philippus’ letter. The reader learns of these thoughts seemingly as he has them, rather than in a quoted letter or in the process of his writing a response. In fact, that process is truncated and mentioned only as an action, since Nicolaus had already presented the letter’s content as Octavian’s thought response. This temporal compression is matched by a spatial one: Nicolaus includes Octavian’s initial wait time but moves immediately from the mention of waiting to the reception of a letter.

Iphigenia in Tauris

Euripides, an author far removed from Josephus’ thought world and genre, plays with the idea of space and time in intriguing ways, demonstrating that Josephus, Nicolaus, and Xenophon could be picking up on Hellenic ideas about letters’ spatiotemporal possibilities and their relevance to daily life.

In Iphigenia in Tauris, Euripides makes a letter a prominent device of the plot and, in fact, the key to the tragedy’s recognition scene. Iphigenia begins in Tauris, having been delivered from the sacrificial altar by Artemis and made a priestess in her temple (28–34). She tells of a dream she interprets to mean that her brother Orestes is dead (56). Orestes and Pylades appear immediately, and a group of herdsmen set upon them to offer them as sacrifices since they are foreigners (279–280). Orestes, whose identity remains unknown, defends himself, but {155|156} the two are finally captured. The herdsmen’s tale provokes Iphigenia’s desire for sacrifices because, she explains, she has been made savage (ἠγριώμεθα, 348) by her dreams, which indicate that Orestes is dead (Ὀρέστην μηκέθ᾿ ἥλιον βλέπειν, 349). Orestes and Pylades are presented, and the irony of Iphigenia’s obscure identity is stressed (ἥτις εἶ ποτ ̓, 483; cf. 340). Because of his pride, Orestes refuses to give the woman his name. They have a long and ironic dialogue (568–575), and Iphigenia decides to release Orestes if he will deliver a tablet (δέλτον, 584; cf. κούφων γράμματων, 594) to Argos and leave Pylades. Orestes insists that Pylades should deliver the letter and that he himself should be sacrificed. Iphigenia agrees and says that she must go to the temple to get her letter (ἀλλ᾿ εἶμι δέλτον τ᾿ ἐκ θεᾶς ἀνακτόρων / οἴσω, 636–637). [145]

The preservation of the letter in Iphigenia in Tauris points up the relationship between time and space that often exists in epistolary correspondence in narratives, as narratives and drama reflect lived experience. Iphigenia’s letter had been languishing in the temple because she had not been able to cross space, to close the spatial gap that lay between her, the writer, and Orestes, the letter’s recipient. Had she had the means earlier to deliver the letter or to have it delivered, the tablet would not have been preserved, and the temporal gap would have been closed much sooner. The long temporal gap is one factor that makes the recognition so dramatic: Iphigenia’s letter, though archived for years, still clearly communicates her emotion and closes the gap between her and Orestes.

Pausing the discussion of Iphigenia in Tauris, it is worth noting the relevance of this discussion to the Josephus text above, particularly the stark contrast between the temporal relationship of the epistolary intratext and the parent-text in Iphigenia in Tauris and the Gaius text. In the former case, the letter, though it has been archived for a period of time, continues to represent the epistolary author’s feelings and will. The letters in the Gaius text, however, are not able to keep up with the quickly changing politics in Rome and thus the events of the narrative. Even after Gaius dashes off his letter to Petronius to follow through with his order, the spatial limitations involved in the account—the letter has to get plausibly from Rome to the eastern Mediterranean—are not sufficient. A second letter, reflecting the circumstances of an entirely different time frame and political reality, is able to close space {157|158} faster and thus has its effect. This presents a different impression altogether from Iphigenia in Tauris, in which constancy of desire, patience, and a prolonged failure to close space all color the account.

Euripides shows his conscious employment of close space in many ways. He has Iphigenia stress four times the destination of the tablet, Argos: πέμψει … Ἄργος (604); πέμπω πρὸς Ἀργος (640); ὁ τήνδε μέλλων δέλτον εἰς Ἄργος φέρειν (733); ὅρκον δότω μοι τάσδε πορθμεύσειν γραφὰς πρὸς Ἄργος (735–736). The destination is clear to both Pylades, as the chorus observes (648–649), and to Orestes, who requests that when Pylades comes to “horse-pasturing Argos” (ἵππιον … Ἄργος), he should set up a memorial for Orestes there. As noted already, Euripides has Pylades draw attention to Orestes’ name when it is spoken, as would be common in an epistolary address across a spatial gap. Given the proximity of sender and receiver, a dynamic clear to the audience but not the characters, Euripides draws attention to how off-key the message is, and how it distorts normal epistolary communication.

To play further on spatial proximity and the distortion of epistolary conventions, Euripides also has Orestes register his disbelief, not by asking Pylades who the woman speaking is, but by asking where (ποῦ) they are, perhaps to draw attention to the fact, of which the audience must already be aware, that he is not in Argos. He has Pylades refer to Iphigenia as your sister here (τῆσδε), which stresses her presence in Pylades’ address to the letter’s recipient. Finally, at the end of the recognition scene, he has Iphigenia stress that Orestes has come from Argos (Ἀργόθεν, 830), emphasizing again that the letter does not need to be delivered to Argos: the recipient is delivered to the letter.

Double-reception and personal interaction are possible because the space involved in the plot—that is, the gap between Iphigenia and her home—has been yawning for many years. For this reason, Iphigenia archives her letter and is not able to have it delivered. Then it {161|162} is available to her when potential “messengers” arrive from the letter’s intended destination who can deliver it upon their return home.

All of the ways in which Euripides draws attention to and plays on the closeness of space reveal that epistolary communication is distorted and off-key precisely because of the letter’s spatiotemporal relationships with the rest of the account. The Gaius episode in Josephus may be contrasted again, but not only because it is a very different kind of story: the space in the Josephus account is similarly perceived as a “long way” because of the length of time it takes to deliver the message. This same kind of expectation is precisely what Euripides can play on to produce the effects of these scenes: the anticipation, irony, and humor are evident because the audience knows that the spatial gap is not as wide as the characters think it is. And because the gap does not conform to what the characters perceive, the letter becomes irrelevant. The letter also becomes irrelevant in the Josephus example, not because the sender is able to communicate directly with the intended recipient, of course, but because the sender’s will is no longer a binding factor.

These examples—Nicolaus, Xenophon, and Euripides—show that the spatial and temporal issues created by letters, which were part of Greek literature and culture and would have been familiar to many ancient readers from daily life, are important for explaining what letters do in texts, a poetics of embedded letters: they create opportunities for a plot to complicate or to compress. But Josephus demonstrates that even this conventionality can be exploited for a more sophisticated effect, as previous authors such as Euripides, Nicolaus, and Xenophon had done before him.

These basic functions of embedded letters, to affect relationships and to close space and time, are ubiquitous. Overlaying them, Josephus uses embedded letters to develop character and plot. Both the closing of gaps and plot development serve in his case to explain the Jews’ relationships with their rulers, another theme that arises several times in these studies. However, this is a feature more unique to Josephus’ particular use of letters, and one that will require further explanation below. It is attestation, a more obscure use of embedded letters, that allows Josephus to accomplish his aims, and his use of this technique will be the focus of the next chapter. {162|}


[ back ] 1. See examples of private letters arranged by theme in Trapp 2003:49–146.

[ back ] 2. See above, p83.

[ back ] 3. See above, p83; How and Wells 1912:2.233–234 suggest a “forger” and, less immoderately, an “interpolator.” But note Immerwahr 1966: “the truth of the matter is that the anecdote is postponed, being shifted from its proper place to the end of the logos in the same manner as the defense of the Alcmaeonids (6.121ff., cf. 115) …” (139n176).

[ back ] 4. This kind of remark is similar to those discussed by de Jong 2004: “The Herodotean narrator reveals his own presence by referring to his activity as organizer of the text …” (103); this example could be added to her 103n9.

[ back ] 5. Macan 1908:354.

[ back ] 6. For Herodotean narrator evaluations, see de Jong 2004:104.

[ back ] 7. Quite how it comes is not divulged: the “bearer of that tablet” may not be singular in concept, but could instead refer to the one who is bearing it at any given time. Spatial and temporal concerns are not important for Herodotus’ story; however, time is of the essence. Macan 1908:355 entertains the question as well, musing that “Pseudo-Herodotus seems acquainted with a postal system (perhaps the Roman?)” (354–355). It is impossible to say.

[ back ] 8. The term anticipates ἐπιστολή (Macan 1908:256), a term not used by Herodotus.

[ back ] 9. Richmond 1998:10–13; in his section on communication, he mentions this Herodotean episode as item 5 on p11.

[ back ] 10. ὡς μὲν ἐγὼ δοκέω καὶ τὸ οἰκὸς ἐμοὶ συμμάχεται: he is surmising that Demaratus would not be too interested in helping the Spartans, since he is in exile; he does not offer a judgment, but wonders whether Demaratus acts out of patriotism (εὐνοίῃ) or malicious joy (καταχαίρων, 239.2). Note that narrator interventions are not uncommon; see de Jong 2004:109.

[ back ] 11. Gorgo also saves her father Cleomenes from Agristagoras’ bribes (5.51); see Forsdyke 2002:532–533. For Herodotus’ characterization of the Spartans and Athenians, see Flower and Marincola 2002:14; Demaratus’ virtue or lack thereof is not a concern here; see Hohti 1976:62–63.

[ back ] 12. For narrative irony in Herodotus in general, see Flower and Marincola 2002:7–8. Perhaps this continuity of theme recommends the passage as authentically Herodotean.

[ back ] 13. For Greek cleverness as a major feature in Herodotus’ narrative on the Ionian Revolt, see Forsdyke 2002:530–531.

[ back ] 14. Note the failed attempts of Philip to collaborate with Agrippa II and Berenice when Philip attempts to have letters delivered through Varus: Vita 48–50; other military examples: Vita 62, 90, 155, 186, 203, 254, 267, 269, 271, 272, 292, 310, 312, 319, 320, 381–385.

[ back ] 15. Josephus is not always so clever; this text may be contrasted with an episode, Vita 85–86, in which Josephus’ credulity is on display.

[ back ] 16. The order to send either those arrested or the letters themselves has to do with the distance that would need to be covered; see Mason 2001:114n1046.

[ back ] 17. That Josephus is “shifting his story according to his need at the moment” has been suggested by Mason 2001:116n1090.

[ back ] 18. See also Gleason 2001:53–64.

[ back ] 19. Cf. the substantial but not prominent role of messengers “as characters” in Euripides; de Jong 1991:65–73.

[ back ] 20. While he does seem to bring the power of the Roman state to bear, he probably is not a plenipotentiary. Popilius seems to resemble the Spartan envoys in Athens in 421, who want to prevent an alliance between Athens and Argos (Thucydides 5.44–45); there, the issue of full power is discussed, and the Spartans admit that they do not have it. Narrating the same story (Plutarch Alcibiades 14.7), Plutarch explains that if they had full power, the Athenians would have pressured the Spartan envoys with demands; for the Spartan envoys, see Mosley 1973:31–32, 37n14.

[ back ] 21. This is especially true of royal letters; see Steiner 1994, esp. 149–154.

[ back ] 22. Rimmon-Kenan 2002:9–10.

[ back ] 23. Rimmon-Kenan 2002:15; note that Rimmon-Kenan allows a state of being to be subsumed under this definition.

[ back ] 24. Rimmon-Kenan 2002:16, with citations in text.

[ back ] 25. The terms here could be read as invoking semiotic terminology, though I mean here only to represent the concepts of message and addressee simply as letter and intended recipient. The application of semiotic theory to epistolography, especially to letters embedded within narratives, would likely be a rich field to explore further; for the application to reading in ancient Greece, see Svenbro 1988.

[ back ] 26. For friendship, sometimes involving the exchange of letters, in some Latin authors, see Brunt 1988b.

[ back ] 27. Though these terms are found together a few times in Josephus, they need not always be together; Gruen 1984:74–76.

[ back ] 28. Herman 1987:10.

[ back ] 29. Herman 1987; for the exchange of gifts among Roman friends, Dixon 1993 argues that “gifts and loans performed a similar role in forming and expressing relationships of reciprocal and continuing obligation” (452). See also Burton 2004.

[ back ] 30. For discussions of these terms and of ancient friendship in general, see Konstan 1997; on some of the terms used here, see esp. 83–87. Schwartz 2010:28 observes that xenia was “an institution biblical texts regarded at best with strong ambivalence.”

[ back ] 31. See e.g. Gruen 1984.

[ back ] 32. The terms not only seem to be an addition to the biblical text, but Josephus has added the alliance itself; the traditional reason for the Babylonian king’s gift is Hezekiah’s illness.

[ back ] 33. Examples for this type of letter are numerous; take e.g. a sampling from Diodorus Siculus: 2.18, 11.21, 11.45, 13.6, 13.8, 14.98, and so on.

[ back ] 34. On the notoriously knotty problems with dating these events, see Gruen 1984:750–751, 750n13.

[ back ] 35. Gruen 1984:54–95; Harris 1979:135–36.

[ back ] 36. See e.g. Antiquitates Judaicae 13.259.

[ back ] 37. For a summary of the bibliography, see Feldman 1996:196n44; as Feldman points out, the letter’s authenticity does not matter as much for our present purposes as the fact that Josephus thought it would be believed by his readers.

[ back ] 38. On Josephus’ mistaken chronology, see Marcus 1943 (LCL) note e (499) and Appendix F (769); also Goodblatt 1994:84, 84n17. For a general history of the family of Oniads, see Parente 1994.

[ back ] 39. Herman 1987:10.

[ back ] 40. For a summary of one leading scholar, see Herman 1987:10–16; for the distinction between friendly and familial relationships, 16–29; on ritual friendship and friendship, 29–34. Friendship in a Jewish context has received little discussion; see McCready 2000, which offers only a brief discussion of 1QS, the “Community Rule” from Qumran; see now Schwartz 2010. For the much broader foreign-relations issues that are not directly relevant here, see Lendon 2002.

[ back ] 41. For this practice for the initiation of formal friendship, see Herman 1987:58–61.

[ back ] 42. For the concept of ‘continuity’, see Herman 1987:69–72.

[ back ] 43. On the letter in 1 Maccabees, see Nisula 2005:212–215.

[ back ] 44. This appears elsewhere in 1 Maccabees: e.g. 10:26–45 (from Demetrius to Jonathan).

[ back ] 45. The parallel material in Plutarch Agesilaus 23.6 is not as expansive on the place of letters in the development of relationships, so I have chosen to discuss the apophthegm here.

[ back ] 46. Note the distinction made by Plutarch in Agesilaus 23.6 regarding public and private friendship: οὐκ ἔλαβεν, εἰπὼν ἐξαρκεῖν τὴν κοινὴν φιλίαν, καὶ μηδὲν ἰδίας δεήσεσθαι μενούσης ἐκείνης (“He did not accept [the letter], saying that public friendship was enough and that while that lasted a private one would not be necessary”). Such a distinction appears not to have been important for the apophthegm.

[ back ] 47. Incidentally, the text may reflect an Aristotelian view of friendship as good will in reciprocal action. For a summary of Aristotle’s philosophy of friendship as “reciprocated and active good will,” see Hutter 1978:102–116 (on Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics 1155b–1156a, 1166b–1167b; Eudemian Ethics 1237a–1237b, 1241a).

[ back ] 48. For an outline of the work, see Diodorus Siculus 1.4.6–5.1. For the plan and date of the work, see Stylianou 1998:17–25; for Diodorus’ style and themes, 1–17; methods, “hastily and incompetently carried out,” 132–139; cf. Sacks 1990, who considers his methods “more careful and more original … than is generally acknowledged” (83), and Yarrow 2000:14–16; see also Sacks 1994. And see Burton 1972:1–34 for Diodorus’ use of many sources besides Hecataeus, which he fits “into the framework of his own construction” (34).

[ back ] 49. In Josephus, this term is much less common with φίλος than with σύμμαχος; in fact, it appears that Josephus uses the formulation only twice. See Antiquitates Judaicae 16.13, where Herod tells Augustus’ general, Agrippa, that he will give him the treatment he would expect from a ξένου καὶ φίλου; cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 1.259, where Abimelech welcomes Issac to Gerara because of the ξενίαν καὶ φιλίαν of Abraham.

[ back ] 50. ὅτι in Bekker (Teubner 1853–1854) and others; διότι in Oldfather 1968 (LCL), following Fisher-Vogel (Teubner 1888ff.), the text I reproduce here.

[ back ] 51. For ἐπιείκεια and φιλανθρωπία as common characteristics in the Hellenistic era, especially for Diodorus, “to attribute to culture–heroes and benefactors,” see Sacks 1994:216–220.

[ back ] 52. Oldfather 1968:323.

[ back ] 53. Note the error, perhaps on Diodorus’ part, of having the embassy sent to another king; cf. Herodotus 2.16, Diodorus Siculus 1.95.2; see Oldfather 1968:323n1 (LCL).

[ back ] 54. On Polycrates and his potential as a victim of divine phthonos, and the use of the concept in Herodotus generally to explain human failures and reversals of fortune, see Mikalson 2003:39–40, 151–52.

[ back ] 55. Not “slightly different,” as Rosenmeyer 2001:52n16 has it.

[ back ] 56. Note here that the point in Herman 1987 about this text, that “ritualised friends were not supposed to love each other, but to behave as they did” (17), does not hold for the account as Diodorus presents it: Diodorus Siculus 1.95.3 uses both of the terms Herman wishes to distinguish (xenos and philos), the ideas he sets against one another in the quote above. Herman 1987 does not refer to Diodorus of Siculus 1.95, which is perhaps problematic for his argument.

[ back ] 57. Diodorus’ concern here is to demonstrate excellence of character, rather than the Herodotean ring–theme of the vicissitudes of mortality.

[ back ] 58. So discussing the statement of Adcock and Mosley 1975:152 is beyond the scope of this study: “The conduct of diplomacy depended upon direct oral exchange and contact between men and constitutional organs of the various states. It did not depend upon indirect methods of communication either by means of formal letters, at least until the Hellenistic era, or by means of third parties” (emphasis mine). But “indirect” methods were involved; Jones 1999 puts it more carefully: “The Greeks … did slowly develop something that is recognizable as diplomacy when they learned to conduct negotiation, not only through written or oral messages carried by human instruments …, but through persons entrusted with the power both to carry messages and to treat with the other party” (18).

[ back ] 59. Note also 2 Maccabees 11:27–33 (from Antiochus to the Jewish people), 34–38 (from Q. Memmius and T. Manlius to the Jewish people).

[ back ] 60. Smallwood 1976:97 discusses the historicity of the episode; for analysis of Nicolaus’ speech, see Landau 2003:198–199. See also p196 below.

[ back ] 61. For a summary of their alliance, see Richardson 1999:226–234.

[ back ] 62. For the timing, see Richardson 1999:280–281.

[ back ] 63. For sources on the life of Agrippa I: Antiquitates Judaicae 18.143–255; 19.274–359; Bellum Judaicum 2.178–183, 206–223; Mishnah Bikkurim 3:4; Misnah Sotah 7:8; Acts 12:1–23.

[ back ] 64. Adapted from Feldman 1965 and Thackeray 1927 and 1928 (LCL).

[ back ] 65. The subject of the letters is the Jerusalem walls, a topic that has received considerable scholarly discussion. The argument has primarily centered on whether remains of the northernmost ancient wall represent the building project of Agrippa I, the Jewish revolutionaries, as Josephus describes, or even the Roman legions besieging Jerusalem. Though detailed discussions cannot be entered into here, many now seem inclined to believe that the northern wall was built, as Josephus suggests, to defend the northern settlement of Jerusalem (Bezetha), and not, as some have argued, by the Romans as a siege wall; the argument that the wall was built by Romans besieging the city takes the present-day city wall to be the Agrippan wall. The improbability of this is due primarily to the orientation of the wall and its towers northward (away from the city); the opposite direction would be expected from attackers. [ back ]  The siege wall argument does take into account the use of apparently hastily gathered materials, but then fails to account for the admittedly large size of that same wall. For a summary of the siege wall argument, see the response of Avi–Yonah 1968:100 to Kenyon 1962, which particularly emphasizes the way in which this necessitates the location of Titus’ camp within the “siege wall,” a strategy with “probably no parallel in Roman sieges,” (112–114); Avi-Yonah 1968:109 also sees that the general alignment of the wall shown at excavated sites as demonstrating extensive planning. [ back ] Excavations in 1972–1974 led archaeologists to conclude that the bedding of the wall was Agrippan due to evidence of its thoroughness and extensive planning, and because its foundation was on natural rock, a known engineering method of that time: “the Wall’s bedding served to level the rocky surface of the ground in preparation for the construction of the ashlar layers” (Ben-Arieh and Netzer 1974:107). Ben–Arieh and Netzer also contend that Josephus’ description of the Agrippan wall as a potentially impenetrable barrier could be substantiated in view of the remains of this bedding (107). See now Sklar–Parnes et al. 2006, n.v.

[ back ] 66. Millar 1966:158 and Millar 1977 (e.g. 208, 215–216, 321–323) summarize evidence of correspondence between governors and the emperor (usually initiated by the emperor) in this period. Examples include the following: Augustus, unhappy with a legate’s spelling skills in a letter to him, fires him on grounds of incompetence (Suetonius Divus Augustus 88); a letter is similarly reflected in an account of a legatus of the Gauls (Pliny Natural History 9.9). And there is evidence of communication from the emperor to his legati: Gaius had written (ἐγεγράφει) to Petronius, the legatus of Syria, a letter (ἐπιστολὴν) with instructions to establish a statue of that emperor in the Jerusalem Temple (Philo Embassy to Gaius 200–207). SEG 19.765 serves as evidence that a border was established between Sagalassos and Tymbrianos by the legatus and procurator of Galatia ἐξ ἐπιστολῆς of Nero. There is evidence also of a letter from the princeps to a legate in response to an initial letter from another official: the letter Gaius writes Petronius is in response to a letter from Herennius Capito, procurator of Jamnia (Philo Embassy to Gaius 200–207).

[ back ] 67. For a summary, see Schwartz 1990:28; for a characterization of VAgr, 32–36; on Claud, 25, 28, 32.

[ back ] 68. Schwartz 1990:15.

[ back ] 69. Levick 1990:163, 232n3; Cassius Dio 60.11.7.

[ back ] 70. Note a later parallel with C. Iulius Antiochus Epiphanes Philoppapus, who is suspected by the legate of Syria under Vespasian, Caesennius Paetus, of colluding with the Parthian king (Bellum Judaicum 7.220); after initially allowing Paetus to arrest him, Vespasian brings him to Rome to live; see Bowersock 2005:58–60.

[ back ] 71. Schwartz 1990:15.

[ back ] 72. Antiquitates Judaicae 18.237; 18.106–108; 15.344; 14.330–332.

[ back ] 73. Note that rebellion was the concern of Marsus and Claudius with reference to the wall, and it was the worry of Marsus alone in the kings instance. The importance of the theme for Josephus (e.g. Antiquitates Judaicae 20.105–112, 113–116, 117, 118–136, 160?, 172, 177, 179–180, 184, 213–214) might indicate that this story about Marsus provides a useful illustration of this Judaean problem, which, according to Josephus, ultimately leads to the Jewish War of AD 66–70.

[ back ] 74. They seem to have been raised together; see D. Schwartz 1990:41–42; Antiquitates Judaicae 18.143.

[ back ] 75. CPJ 2, no. 53; for brief commentary, see Levick 2000:136–137.

[ back ] 76. Marsus appears when he replaces Petronius in AD 42 (Antiquitates Judaicae 19.316), when he writes to Claudius regarding the Jerusalem wall, when he disperses the kings visiting Agrippa, and when Claudius replaces him with Fadus in AD 44.

[ back ] 77. For Agrippa’s coin, see Smallwood 1967:209a = RPC 4983; for the epithet “Great,” cf. coins of Antiochus IV of Commagene, AD 38–72 (RPC 3856; RPC 3533, 3701, 3703–3705, 3712, 3717–3718, 3720, 3852, 3854–3857, 3864), coins of Polemo II of Pontus, AD 60–64 (RPC 3844), Artavastes III, 5–2 BC, or IV, AD 60–64 (RPC 3843), and Tigranes III, c. 10–5 BC, or IV, c. AD 6 (RPC 3841, 3842).

[ back ] 78. On this designation for Agrippa I, see also OGIS 419, 420. For inscriptions to this effect for Herod, see OGIS 414 (ΦΙΛΟΡΩΜΑΙΟΣ); OGIS 427, SEG 12.150, Herod 2a [Richardson 1999:203ff.] = Israel Exploration Journal 20:97–98, and Herod 2b = Kushnir-Stein 1995:81–84 (ΦΙΛΟΚΑΙΣΑΡ). Richardson suggests OGIS 424, which includes the same designation, may be of Agrippa II (Herod 18; see also the brief discussion, p210). A parallel term is used much later of an imperial legate: ILS 5864 = Levick 1985, no. 106, a milestone inscription dated AD 164–165.

[ back ] 79. Smallwood 1976:197n64.

[ back ] 80. For the relationship between Ezra and 1 Esdras in this particular case (1 Esdras 2 and Ezra 4), see Talshir 1999:36–38, which is particularly concerned with the question of whether 1 Esdras preserves an older text than does the MT; he concludes that it does not, because it collapses the name lists and letters (seemingly two in Ezra, the second quoted) of Ezra 4:6–10, yet preserves the “judges” element of Ezra 4:9, thus demonstrating that it is summarizing a text similar to the MT. The issue need not be of further concern here, as we are more interested in the relationship between Josephus and 1 Esdras and its relevance to the letters. The chronological and source problems with Ezra 1–6 are well known; though I will mostly discuss 1 Esdras, note Halpern 1990:81–142, esp. 116–119; Williamson 1983. Cyrus’ earlier letter (Antiquitates Judaicae 11.12–17) has been called “a fabrication by Josephus himself” (Cohen 1979:42n73); there is little way to prove this, and the comment by Marcus 1937 (LCL) is less direct: “Josephus supplies, in its proper place, the decree of Cyrus which is mentioned retrospectively in Scripture” (319).

[ back ] 81. Fitzmyer 1982:31 notes that the word is derived from the Persian *ništāvana “and probably still carries the nuance of a ‘written document, decree’”; cf. Ezra 4:23, 5:5.

[ back ] 82. DJD 16:292.

[ back ] 83. For a photograph of the three preserved fragments, see DJD 16:117, plate XXXVIII; for the dating and description, 291; for a translation, Abegg 1999:635.

[ back ] 84. Many commentators assume this; for an example, Rajak 1974:118; Feldman 2000:150n202 on Josephus’ use of Esdran speech material; more explicitly, Feldman 1998:35.

[ back ] 85. For a discussion of the choice made by the LXX translator, see Wooden 2008.

[ back ] 86. The words seem to be Akkadian loan–words or at least to represent the influence of Akkadian upon Aramaic; Rosenthal 1995:61–62.

[ back ] 87. The issue of “verbatim” quotation varies across cultures; Americans, for instance, are sure to indicate where an original capital letter has been altered, while writers in other English–speaking cultures do not so concern themselves. At a deeper level, it may be that “verbatim reproduction of prose classics, unlike verse with its metrical constraints, was not considered important and that such minor variations do not count as inaccuracies” (Pelling 2000a:189). Or again, note Tacitus’ “recording” of a Claudian speech to the Senate (Annals 11.24). The speech is also reported in the “Lyons tablet” (ILS 212); the inscription is often taken to be the “control.” Laird 1999:134 notes that if the inscription had not survived, modern readers would be happy to let Tacitus summarize the speech as if quoting, without holding him to such a rigorous standard. However, Laird sees a problem with using the inscription as the “verbatim” record while holding the literary account as an interpretation or a complete fabrication: no matter which “mode” of “presenting discourse” is used, the issues of perspective, interpretation, and “bias” obtain; for this, see the example Laird uses to contend that a speech act does not have a particular ontological status before it is situated or told in a story (1999:57–59).

[ back ] 88. The term occurs in the first century BC (Charles 1965:665) in the Greek Addition to Esther B 1 and Addition E 1, where both quoted letters are attributed to Artaxerxes. The idea appears also in the documents at Antiquitates Judaicae 14.191 and 219. Note also the use of the term in second-century AD Jewish legal papyri from the Babatha archive: P.Yad.(α) 16.1, 3 (registration of land, AD 127) and P.Yad(α) 33.1, 4 (petition).

[ back ] 89. Pfann 1991.

[ back ] 90. The phrase appears in Assyrian inscriptions dated to the end of the eighth and seventh centuries BC, and is rendered with “Syria,” “Coele-Syria,” and “Syria and Phoenicia” in Greek sources (Ephʻal 1988:141). But note SIG 1.22 of 494 BC (reign of Darius, βασιλεὺς [β]ασιλέων), which renders the phrase πέραν Εὐφράτου (“Across the Euphrates”); for this and a summary of the evidence in the Achaemenid period and generally, see Rainey 1969, esp. on Cyrus, Cambyses, and Darius (52–53); the phrase is of special concern with reference to the biblical texts because it would have been the administrative division to which the Jews belonged: Ezra 5:3, for example, lists a certain Tattenai as governor of “Beyond the River,” and Rainey has shown that cuneiform sources have him as a subordinate of a certain Ushtannu (Herodotus 7.77), who, according to texts of 520 and 519 BC, was governor of both Babylon and “Beyond the River” (Rainey 1969:53). The point here is that Ezra and 4QEzra correctly preserve this geographical and political designation, while Josephus, following 1 Esdras and probably Herodotus, does not.

[ back ] 91. He claims to have been sent to negotiate with the Jews on behalf of the Romans (Bellum Judaicum 5.361) in his native tongue and claims to have spoken the language of the Hebrews (6.97). Throughout the Antiquitates Judaicae, he also claims to be offering a transliteration “according to the Hebrew tongue” and the like (Antiquitates Judaicae 1.34, 36, 118, 146, 204, 258, 333; 3.252; 4.22; 7.67; 9.290; 11.148, 286). The claim that he originally wrote the Bellum Judaicum in his native language (1.3) is much disputed, and at this point should not be taken to indicate his “mother-tongue.” For more on the topics mentioned here, see Rajak 1974:2.108–111; Rajak 1983:230–232.

[ back ] 92. Adapted from Marcus 1937 (LCL).

[ back ] 93. The category is one proffered by Laird 1999:87–101, esp. the table on 88–89.

[ back ] 94. Here Josephus could be following Greek precedent: this appears to be a direct discourse formula in Thucydides; for an example of this use of τάδε, particularly with reference to ἐπιστολή, see Hornblower 1991:214 (on 1.128.6); Hornblower takes the word to mean ‘as follows’, after which Thucydides quotes a document (or records a speech). See above, p28n136, pp64–65.

[ back ] 95. Cohen 1979:42–43, a discussion of Josephus and Esdras, does not mention this case specifically, but notes that “proper names are an endemic problem”; in this case, Josephus appears to have had a good argument.

[ back ] 96. Though he does closely follow this source in the body as well: the roots of certain words or essentially the same nominal ideas appear in roughly the same order. A few examples from the first letter follow (1 Esdras / Josephus): γνωστὸν / γινώσκειν, βασιλεῖ / βασιλεῦ, πρὸς ἡμᾶς / εἰς τὴν ἡμετέραν.

[ back ] 97. Josephus gives the same cause of death that Herodotus does: Cyrus died in battle with the Massagetae. Herodotus, in fact, says he knows of other versions of the tale, but, as is his usual practice, presents the one he thinks is most likely. There were other accounts Josephus could have given, had he wished to (and had he knowledge of them): Diodorus Siculus e.g. had an account of Cyrus being killed by the Scythian queen (2.44). It may be the case that Josephus worked with one source at a time on a given episode, so perhaps he took his non–biblical information from Herodotus on this particular day; one need only think of the practical difficulties of checking references in a βύβλος or βιβλίον, a roll of papyrus, to understand the result I am describing; see Turner 1968:7–8. In this case, it is probably not a coincidence that Josephus uses the same term for “tax” discussed above that Herodotus uses, φόρος (3.89)—and, with practical difficulties in mind, it is impressive that Josephus in the passages here under review could be working with two sources. At the same time, memory would have lessened the need for Josephus to have more than one text in front of him; for the reliance of Greek and Roman historians on memory after an initial reading of all source material, see Pelling 1979, esp. 92–96.

[ back ] 98. The point here is that Josephus seems to be following Herodotus, so the actual chronology of the Achaemenids would be inconsequential for our purposes; it appears as if Josephus, with Herodotus, takes the correct order, though there are many problems with early Achaemenid regnal chronology; for a summary, see Kuhrt 1988:120–123. Cook 1983:32 takes it that Cambyses was king of Babylon, with Cyrus, for 538 BC, but documents from then are dated with Cyrus’ name alone until 530 when Cambyses again appears; Oppenheim 1985:558–559 demonstrates that inscriptions exist that suggest the same, though some have it that Cambyses was “King of All Lands” and others that Cambyses was “King of Babylon” and “son of Cyrus, King of All Lands.”

[ back ] 99. For the broader chronological shifts of the account of the return from Babylonian exile, see Rajak 1974:120–121, in which she attributes the changes Josephus makes “quietly and unobtrusively” to development of a “neat” narrative in which there is roughly equal material for each king; the very important point here is that Josephus papers over the problems of the Ezra–Nehemiah and 1 Esdras accounts to avoid the ridicule of his readers, and to cause readers to think more favorably of the Jewish tradition.

[ back ] 100. See the illuminating study in Feldman 1998:14–73. Josephus writes after this period, but the tradition of interpretation with which he was probably most familiar was that characteristic of the Second Temple period (538 BC–AD 70). This may be an erroneous assumption based on the fact that the only literature preserved for the period between AD 70 and the beginning of the third century (aside from documentary evidence, letters of Bar Kochba, e.g.) is provided by Josephus himself; his own handling of the Bible would be important here. But it is unlikely that other traditions of interpretation or translation arose in this short (twenty-year) period between the destruction of the Second Temple and the approximate time of the “publication” of the Antiquitates Judaicae, esp. given the fact that Josephus discusses sects of Judaism without implying that they have disappeared, as is often assumed. Caution is registered here, however, because it is also unlikely that we have literature from every Jewish sect in existence in the first century, and it is unlikely that we know of all of those sects in existence by name; see Goodman 2000a.

[ back ] 101. Josephus elsewhere in the Antiquitates Judaicae, 10.18–20, uses Herodotus as a source; see Begg 2005:xiiin1; for Herodotus as “inspiration,” see e.g. Begg 2005:199–200; on Nicolaus as a more common source for this period, and his eclipsing of Herodotus by claiming superior knowledge, Wacholder 1989, esp. 152; for Herodotus as an important model for interpreting Josephus because of Herodotus’ linking of history and ethnography, Sterling 1992:34–54.

[ back ] 102. This fits with Josephus’ concern throughout the Antiquitates Judaicae to demonstrate that the Jewish political constitution was superior to other forms of governance, Greek or Roman (Antiquitates Judaicae 1.14, 20), an argument most probably aimed at aristocrats and rulers to garner respect for the Jewish way of life; for this theme in the work, especially in the context of Greek and Roman constitutions, see Feldman 2000:xxiv–xxix. See also Sterling 1992:304, with notes.

[ back ] 103. For example, Cicero e.g. Letters to Atticus 8.14.1, 9.10.1, 12.53; the theme of absence is important for the Augustan literary epistle, as discussed by Lowrie 2009:215–234.

[ back ] 104. Gera 1993:1, commenting on Cicero Epistulae ad Quintum fratrem 1.1.23.

[ back ] 105. Gera 1993:2; see also the comments of Due 1989:236–238: “[Xenophon] chose to illustrate his dream and ideal, not by a utopia to come, but from a reconstructed model of the past in accordance with his mainly nostalgic view of the present. Apparently, he did not fear that the historical setting might obscure his message. The Greeks, not least the Athenians, were accustomed to ‘translating’ mythological or historical stories to their own day …” (238).

[ back ] 106. These satraps were to imitate Cyrus (8.6.10); see Tatum 1989:208.

[ back ] 107. W. Miller 1989 (LCL).

[ back ] 108. This is quite a common feature of Greek literature; Rehm 2002: “Greeks tended to view space and time as closely interrelated, measuring the latter by the former and vice versa. Although short distances might be reckoned ‘as far as the flight of a spear’ or ‘the range of a discus,’ longer distances converted into travel time—a day’s sail, three days’ march—construed in physical, nonabstract terms” (276).

[ back ] 109. See e.g. Herodotus 8.90; Aeschylus Persians 465–470.

[ back ] 110. Cf. Xenophon Cyropaedia 2.2.9, where a letter is involved in an illustration of the speed with which orders are carried out; 4.5.27–34, where Cyrus tells a messenger to make haste in delivering a letter to Cyaraxes; 8.2.16–17, where a letter is circulated to multiple recipients by one of Croesus’ messengers for Cyrus.

[ back ] 111. Space in tragedy is examined in Rehm 2002; note especially his discussion of the series of nested spaces that frame the theater. There is not space here to discuss theoretical arguments regarding space, such as whether space is socially produced (after Lefebvre 1991, Merrifield 1993, or, contra Merrifield, Unwin 2000).

[ back ] 112. Clarke 2001:31; cf. Romm 1998:84 on Xerxes crossing the Hellespont: “This violent storm, like the flying rock splinters of the Cnidos canal, seems to represent the displeasure of divinity at seeing the earth reshaped, as if nature itself were rejecting Xerxes’s bridge the way a human body rejects a transplant.”

[ back ] 113. From the first paragraph of Pelling 1997. Space as an active agent is especially prominent in Herodotus; see Shahar 2004:49–84, esp. 84.

[ back ] 114. A summary of such work is beyond the scope of this study; for a summary, especially as it relates to tragedy, see Rehm 2002:274–296.

[ back ] 115. Rehm 2002:284–285, 400n67.

[ back ] 116. Rehm 2002:284.

[ back ] 117. Incidentally, Josephus was aware of the Pythagoreans. He refers to the Essene sect of Judaism as having followed Pythagoras; the remark has set off a discussion about asceticism, mysticism, and the Essenes. It is impossible to infer from this whether Josephus would have been aware of the Pythagorean theory of integers.

[ back ] 118. I use the term “dramatic time” because drama is not narrative, though it can contain embedded narratives; for narrative in drama, see de Jong 1991, de Jong et al. 2004:7–8, and Lowe 2004.

[ back ] 119. That is, when a letter was written; see the discussion of time in Rosenmeyer 2001:74–75; she discusses four levels of “narrative time” in epistolary fiction: time of narrated action, time of narration (the “temporal frame of the internal correspondents” [74]), time of the textual organizer (Euripides, in this case), and the reading or performance time (or external audience). This discussion of time includes the first three, but also provides room for discussion of time within the epistolary process of composition, sending, and reception. Note also Rosenmeyer’s discussion of the “epistolary present,” which collapses the time of narrated action and of the correspondents, which she says problematizes communication because the epistolary present is supposedly only instantaneously valid (see her points 2 and 3 on 2001:75).

[ back ] 120. The effect of the timing—when a letter is included in the narrative and when it makes its impact—is noted in this chapter’s examples. It is not more extensively reviewed here because it is discussed by Rosenmeyer 2001 and because the relation of time to space as a measure of epistolary delivery is more interesting here in these texts.

[ back ] 121. Note e.g. the point in Goodman 1999:601 that, though there were differences between Galileans and Judaeans, one commonality was the ideal location for worship, the Jerusalem Temple, which required pilgrimage for Galileans; cf. Beard et al. 1998:1.280.

[ back ] 122. The focus of Safrai 1988 is on “the degree of exactitude and reliability of Josephus’ descriptions of Judea” (Safrai concludes that Josephus’ geography is “generally reliable” [321]) as compared with archaeological and topographical evidence, and not on broader questions. Cf. Varneda 1986:121–124; Bilde 1994; see also Shahar 2004.

[ back ] 123. Vita 422; for Josephus in Judaea before his move to Rome, see Bilde 1988:57–58.

[ back ] 124. Vita 423–425; Bilde 1988:8. Bilde (1998:60) also notes a tradition, independent of Josephus, which has his works entered into a Roman library and a statue of him erected in the city (Historica Ecclesiastica 3.9.2; cf. Vita 361–367, Contra Apionem 1.50–52). This tradition indicates that he had established himself as a resident of Rome; at the same time, the entry of the works of a provincial to a Roman library may not be unique but may only reflect surviving evidence.

[ back ] 125. Goodman 1994:333, emphasis mine.

[ back ] 126. On the broader issue of chronology in Josephus, see Verneda 1986:118–121.

[ back ] 127. For the issue framed in this way, see Rappaport 1994:280; he rejects preference for the Bellum Judaicum on these grounds: “The closeness of time of a historian to his subject is of little importance in itself, in comparison to questions like the availability of sources, sound judgement, relative objectivity, etc.” (280–281).

[ back ] 128. For the argument for a Roman or non–Judaean audience, see Mason 1998; see also Mason 2001:xix–xxii, which states, “His readers are, in the first instance, non–Judeans living in Rome who are fascinated by Judean culture, and interested enough in Josephus to stay aboard for this rough excursion through his career [the Vita]” (xxii). For the inclusion of Jews in his “educated audience,” see Feldman 1998:32–62.

[ back ] 129. Vita 3–4; for the meaning of this heritage, see Mason 2000:4n4, 10n43. For the importance of genealogy in Judaism generally, see Goodman 1996:770.

[ back ] 130. For Jews under Rome, see Smallwood 1975, Goodman 1998a, and 1998b.

[ back ] 131. See Landau 2003:112.

[ back ] 132. For a historical discussion of the episode, see Smallwood 1976:174–180; for the theological implications, Goodman 1987:2. The episode is usually treated in terms of its veracity; Zeitlin 1965 compares Josephus’ account to Philo Embassy to Gaius 30.200, and considers whether Agrippa wrote a letter, as in Philo, or gave a speech, as in Josephus, to convince Gaius not to install his statue. He concludes that Agrippa’s letter was “composed by Philo in accordance with his theology … [and that] the speech of Agrippa to Gaius, as recorded by Josephus, was composed in the spirit of the historiography of the Greeks” (31). Such questions are bypassed here; rather, the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae texts are examined as whole narratives in which Josephus could play with the effects of space by subtly altering his language.

[ back ] 133. I follow Niese’s and Thackeray’s texts here; note the variant that does not change the sense in any way that is relevant here: καὶ δοκεῖν καὶ (in manuscripts PAMExc.).

[ back ] 134. For Agrippa’s background and involvement in this episode, see Goodman 2007b:83–91.

[ back ] 135. In source-critical interpretations, the questions of Josephus’ sources and historical accuracy obtrude here; consonant with the introduction, this study does not deal with these issues. Rather, it treats the texts as if they present whole episodes composed with their own internal sense. For a source-critical interpretation, see Schwartz 1990:77–89.

[ back ] 136. Note that Agrippa makes his request in a letter in Philo Embassy to Gaius 276–329; on that letter, note Smallwood 1976: “This is probably not a verbatim copy of Agrippa’s letter but, in accordance with the conventions of ancient historiography, reproduces its general tenor and owes a good deal to Philo’s own pen. But there can be little doubt that Philo was in touch with Agrippa in Italy and knew about its appeal, and it is not inconceivable that he helped to draft the document” (179n120).

[ back ] 137. For a brief discussion, see Richardson 1999:171–172. Herod’s extensive involvement with construction at Nicopolis, the site of Octavian’s camp before Actium, is symbolic of Herod’s new loyalty; Braund 1984:77.

[ back ] 138. The text is garbled here (see the note by Feldman 1965:174 [LCL], which also includes Niese’s reading), but the essential point in this context is that Gaius writes his first letter under Agrippa’s influence before he reconsiders.

[ back ] 139. Dindorf’s text of the Bellum Judaicum suggests γὰρ οὔσης here, which would be awkward; the point here about the presence of the Roman forces following a period of time inflected by a narrative technique that creates an uncertain duration is not affected (although παρούσης makes my reading more striking). In either case, whether the army’s presence or its appearance represents the proper reading, its mention follows the building of spatial and temporal issues (i.e. the time transpiring from the army’s setting out to their presence in Ptolemais, with the Judaean’s growing concern in between).

[ back ] 140. Such a digression does not appear in the Antiquitates Judaicae 18 account.

[ back ] 141. This seems to be the case, although part of the sentence regarding Petronius’ letter may be missing: ὡς δὲ καὶ πρὸς τὸν Γάιον σὺν τοῖς λοιποῖς ὁπόσα ἔγραψεν; see Feldman 1965:168.

[ back ] 142. On the point of numbers, note also the parallel use of figures, albeit discrepant ones: 50 idle days in Bellum Judaicum 2.200 compared to 40 in Antiquitates Judaicae 18.272. This should be noted contra the claim of Thackeray 1997: “in the account of this affair of Petronius [Antiquitates Judaicae 18] again enters into much more detail than [Bellum Judaicum 2]” (402). This may be true in some parts of the account, but it is not in others, as I have discussed.

[ back ] 143. See the summary in Stirewalt 1993:70–71; Rosenmeyer 2001; Rosenmeyer 2006.

[ back ] 144. As for Latin drama, Plautus uses letters as well; Slater 2004:169–176.

[ back ] 145. Time is important in a different sense than the ways being discussed here; the question arises in the reader’s mind: will Iphigenia recognize her brother in time to avert tragic disaster? See de Romilly 1968:23.

[ back ] 146. For the notion of the letter as “silent,” see Svenbro 1988:45–46.

[ back ] 147. Note the point of Rosenmeyer 2001, with a slightly different focus: “Iphigenia’s letter exists simultaneously on two temporal levels: it is both a testament to her emotions at a particular time, prior to the opening scene of the play, and a document of her present intent” (73); “document of intent” needs to be clarified further; since the “document” was written earlier, it may “reflect” her present intent, which leads to a question of whether the letter itself really “exists” on two temporal levels. Rather, it seems that Iphigenia’s relationship with the document reveals “two temporal levels.” Rosenmeyer’s later statement seems nearer the truth: “In Iphigenia’s case, the misery which she describes in her letter has remained the same for an indefinite amount of time, so that the previously written letter retains its full impact of sustained grief and desperation” (75–76).

[ back ] 148. The notion that nothing has changed is rather like the static nature of the years leading up to the opening scene of the Electra. In the prologue, the farmer says of Electra’s time in Argos: ἣ δ ̓ ἐν δόμοις ἔμεινεν Ἠλέκτρα πατρός ταύτην ἐπειδὴ θαλερὸς εἶχ ̓ ἤβης χρόνος … (“Electra stayed in her father’s house. When her youth had reached its flower …” [lines 19–20, trans. Lembke and Reckford 1994:21]).

[ back ] 149. Griffiths 2007:283 points to this as a shortcoming of the letter: “Not only does the letter fail to intervene in the future, and fail to reach its destination, but it is incapable of responding to changed circumstances. This is the best demonstration of the fact that letters cannot change the future as a consequence of their fixed nature, and yet that very fixed nature encourages a belief in their power. Iphigenia insists on the primacy of the letter when she refuses Pylades’ attempt to intervene and engage her in conversation. She will not participate in oral dialogue, preferring to present a fixed text of a letter which was written at an earlier date.” However, this is inaccurate: the letter does reach its destination and it does flex to meet changed circumstances; in fact, though its content is archived and does not change, the letter is remarkably effective. Letters can be inadequate; this is just not the best example to illustrate it.

[ back ] 150. But this time not in the dative, and so addressed to Pylades, not read from the letter; Flagg 1889:124.

[ back ] 151. Strohm 1949: “786f. Mit diesen Worten überreicht die Priesterin Pylades den Brief” (153).

[ back ] 152. This aspect of the episode will be raised again below.

[ back ] 153. Measuring space in terms of time is a feature of periplus texts, Clarke 1999:199–200 points out: “In the periplus attributed to Scylax of Caryanda, for the first few chapters all distances are given in terms of the number of days’ and nights’ sailing” (199). Clarke also shows that measuring space temporally shows a “conceptual privileging of time over space” that “does not necessarily result from the need to speed up time. Indeed, … [it] stresses the act of journeying” (200).

[ back ] 154. Aristotle Poetics 1452b; it is precisely the sending off of the letter, Aristotle asserts, that results in Orestes’ recognition of Iphigenia, though it does not cause Iphigenia to recognize Orestes.

[ back ] 155. Probably poetic periphrasis, as cited by Aristotle Rhetoric 1407b35; Cropp 2000:220.

[ back ] 156. A common antithesis; Platnauer 1938:127. Note the point by Wright 2005:335–337 that the recognition scene “symbolize[s] the redundance not just of this letter but of words in general.”

[ back ] 157. The point that Orestes graciously receives the letter should not be considered as insignificant; delivery of the letter does not simply represent “an empty gesture rejected by Orestes as he tosses the text aside to embrace his sister,” as Rosenmeyer 2001:77 interprets; it is a real, “gracious acceptance” (Flagg 1889:126).

[ back ] 158. Or, sometimes obviously included, such as e.g. at Iphigenia in Tauris 68: ὁρῶ, σκοποῦμαι δ᾿ ὄμμα πανταχῇ στρέφων.

[ back ] 159. But as discussed above, it does take place; note that Small 2003 misses the point: “[Iphigenia] never actually gives the letter to Pylades. Instead, she tells them orally what it says … At which point, Orestes … recognizes Iphigenia, and she, in turn, learns who they are” (108, emphasis mine).

[ back ] 160. Confusion of identity leads Iphigenia to question whether the gods or fate control events (895–897); Dunn 1996:146.

[ back ] 161. As Cropp 2000 notes: “Iphigenia’s recital of her message finally leads her to name her brother and herself. She must in any case tell Pylades where to deliver the message, but the full recital allows a number of novel excitements. Iphigenia amusingly tells Pylades what she could very well be telling Orestes directly. His gradual realization of what is happening is emotionally effective, and contrasts with her own continuing unawareness. Pylades can clinch the recognition by the simple act of ‘delivering’ the letter to Orestes” (221).

[ back ] 162. I draw here in part on Segal 1986:103–104, who comments on the “incommensurability between the physically circumscribed nature of the tablet as a tool or a means of conveying information in an impersonal manner and the rich human feelings attaching to the actual words that it contains” (103). On the broader issues of writing and oral culture in Classical Greece, see Segal 1986:106–109.

[ back ] 163. Segal 1986: “Euripides allows Iphigeneia, carried away by emotion, to confuse the two [the letter and direct communication]—the tablet ‘speaks’ and ‘announces’ …” (103).

[ back ] 164. On Orestes’ preference for emotional expression, see Segal 1986:104.