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 4. Epistolary Reliability

According to Herodotus’ story of Cyrus’ accession, the Median general Harpagus is tricked by Astyages into cannibalizing his own son (1.119). Harpagus seeks revenge (123.1) by preparing the Median aristocracy for a revolt against Astyages. He then transmits a letter to Cyrus in the belly of a hare. The letter encourages Cyrus to cause a revolt among the Persians and then to march against the Medes (1.124). It also indicates Harpagus’ intention that Cyrus become king. [1]

Apparently not missing the tricky communication, Cyrus cuts open the hare and reads the letter. As a response, he considers the most cunning way in which he might convince the Persians to revolt (125.1). He decides it would be best to write in a letter what he wants to have happen (125.2). He then gathers an assembly of the Persians, and after unfolding the letter and reading it, he states that Astyages has appointed him leader of the Persians (125.2). Herodotus shifts to oratio recta for the announcement that they should come, each one with a sickle (125.2). The revolt proves to be successful (128.1): Astyages is taken prisoner (128.3), and Harpagus appears, taunting him (129.1). Astyages chides Harpagus for thinking that what Cyrus has done is his work (129.2). Harpagus responds that, since he wrote the letter, it is rightly his work (129.2).

At least in this episode, Herod’s problem, as far as Josephus’ narratives are concerned, is that the letter stands ironically against claims Herod makes in other parts of the episode. The scene points up the problems that epistolary material can present if managed improperly by the internal characters, if its message publicly says something those characters do not want it to say. A narrator could face a slightly different kind of problem if a letter fails to fit with other elements of the text, such as theme or characterization.

This chapter will explore two ways in which letters are used for attestation. First, I will examine ways in which letters appear within episodes in Josephus’ narratives as proof, often in the context of trials. In this “episodic” use of letters, characters within the textual world employ letters to substantiate certain claims. These claims appear in a chronological sequence with the other events in the plot.

This chapter will also examine ways in which Josephus employs letters as evidence for his own interpretation of events. This is an “extra-episodic” use of letters in the sense that the narrator is presenting a letter outside the order of events in the plot, which will involve texts that demonstrate subtle narrative techniques by which Josephus uses a letter that appears to be evidence in a trial or other situation, but in fact is a piece of evidence for building the narrator’s interpretation. These uses of the letter get to the heart of the meaning of letters in public and private life, including how they were perceived and the authority attributed to them.

This sequential-logical distinction is important for at least two reasons. It demonstrates that letters are not only useful for a historian when they fall within the immediate story line, they are also important for the author/narrator’s task of giving a plausible presentation of a series of events. Although these events may not immediately involve a letter, an extra-episodic letter reveals that an author has reflected upon the utility and function of letters. The point is important by itself for those who may consider an author’s use of embedded letters simply {165|166} a necessity, given that they appear in the sequential order of events in his source.


Circumventing considerations of an errant messenger, an epistolary document itself could be falsified. Forgery, the manipulation of epistolary material, is a significant topic in any epistolographic study. But the way in which forgeries are carried out—the motivations and often subtly nuanced effects—are inextricably linked with other portions of text and with the whole text, and this structural relatedness is precisely what intratextuality allows us to trace. Thus the relevance of “forgery” here is not primarily as a technical issue of handwriting analysis or archive mischief, but a matter of playing on identity, and how such play affects the situations in which letters are prominent.

Writing in the first or early second century AD, later than Diodorus but likely using reliable sources, [20] Q. Curtius Rufus also narrates this scene, but does not include a forged letter. Rather than presenting a conciliatory letter, Curtius says Darius initially sends a letter that offends Alexander (litterae a Dareo redduntur, quibus ut superbe scriptis vehementer offensus est, Q. Curtius Rufus 4.1.7), asking Alexander to withdraw from Asia and, for a ransom, return the Persian captives. Alexander replies (rescripsit) with a lengthy letter, which Curtius quotes directly (4.1.10–14). [21] He then captures Tyre (4.4.19), a victory that occurs because of Darius’ letter in Curtius, but because of Alexander’s forgery in Diodorus. Writing in the second century AD, Arrian tells basically the same story as Curtius about a letter from Darius that arrives with envoys after Issus (ἀφίκοντο παρὰ Δαρείου πρέσβεις, ἐπιστολήν τε κομίζοντες Δαρείου, Arrian Anabasis 2.14.1), a letter that Arrian also quotes directly but without Darius’ arrogant tone. [22] Arrian {170|171} also gives Alexander’s reply in direct quotation (2.14.4), [23] and notes Alexander’s instructions to the messengers to give the letter to Darius (τὴν ἐπιστολὴν Δαρείωι, 2.14.4), but not to talk to him (αὐτὸν δὲ μὴ διαλέγεσθαι ὑπὲρ μηδενός, 2.14.4). Alexander’s letter reminds Darius that the Persians had killed Philip, about which they boasted in letters (ἐν ταῖς ἐπιστολαῖς, 2.14.5), that Darius had sent “improper letters” (γράμματα οὐκ ἐπιτήδεια, 2.14.5) about Alexander to the Greeks so that the Greeks would declare war on him (2.14.4), that Darius had instigated the war, and that Alexander had conquered and was in control of Darius’ possessions (ὄντι πάντων τῶν σῶν, 2.14.9). After Alexander captures Tyre, Arrian employs envoys from Darius to Alexander to present what, in Diodorus, Darius requests in the actual letter that he sends: a ransom for his captured relatives and a territorial compromise (2.25.1).

The author’s identity in many instances of forgery in Josephus is not as clear as Diodorus makes it in the example above. A first example comes from Josephus’ Vita. When Josephus is describing cities as either for or against Rome, he discusses how Gamala remained loyal to Rome in AD 66 (Γάμαλα δὲ πίστει τῇ πρὸς Ῥωμαίους ἐνέμεινε δι ̓ αἰτίαν τοιαύτην, Vita 46). Here Philip is king Agrippa’s attendant. Babylonians in Jerusalem save Philip’s life after he escapes a siege of the palace by Menahem and some brigands (λῃσταί). He is hidden in Jerusalem for four or five days until he flees, wearing a wig, to a loyal town. He sends (πέμπει) for reinforcements, writing a letter (γράψας ἐπιστολάς) to Agrippa II and Berenice and sending it through one of his freedmen, who is to deliver the letter to Varus, Agrippa’s legate (48). Varus suppresses the letter (γράμματα), which tells of Philip’s escape, because it threatens his own power (50). And so to protect himself, Varus brings the letter bearer (τὸν τὰς ἐπίστολας κομίσαντα) to the people (εἰς τὸ πλῆθος), accuses him of forgery (πλαστογραφίαν ἐπικαλέσας, 50) and lying about Philip fighting against the Romans, and puts him to death. When the messenger does not return, Philip sends another messenger to deliver letters with the same message and to discover what has happened to the first messenger. Varus put him to death also (52). The episode reveals not merely the plausibility of a charge of forgery but also its gravity, given that death is deemed an appropriate punishment. The charge may not have been just, since Varus is seeking to consolidate power for himself, but the fact that he chooses to charge the {171|172} messenger with forgery demonstrates the importance of authenticity for the conveyance of a letter: to discredit the messenger is to discredit the message. The felicity of communication depends upon the security of the material, as can be seen with regard to forgery and to the manipulation of epistolary media to protect the messenger.

One of the most well-known references to forgery, and the second of my two examples, is in Bellum Judaicum 1.528–529 and its parallel at Antiquitates Judaicae 16.317–319. However, the reader must be careful with the narrator’s assertion of forgery. This discussion will proceed with a detailed comparison of these two texts to show that reports of forgery can be as shrouded in mystery as the materials that are deceptively created—they require the reader to question identity as much as may be expected of the internal recipient.

Bellum Judaicum 1.528–529 appears in a long series of introductory material for Josephus’ main concern in that work, the war between Rome and Judaea in the first century. Antiquitates Judaicae 16.317–319 constitutes part of a historical narrative whose scope is the whole of Judaean history—from creation to the principate of Nero. [24] Thus the Bellum Judaicum account falls relatively early in that work, which comprises seven books in total, and relatively late in the twenty-book Antiquitates Judaicae. The Antiquitates Judaicae account occurs, in fact, in a book often cited for its famous and much-disputed decrees. Some brief background is necessary to situate the complex plot, so a brief summary follows from the point where Herod names his successors, Antipater, Alexander, and Archelaus (Bellum Judaicum 1.458–466; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.133). [25] Relations with Herod’s family had been previously tumultuous, but a speech in Bellum Judaicum 1 indicates that they have been reconciled, providing a “clean slate” from which to commence (Bellum Judaicum 1.467–468; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.244–253). Trouble begins anew for Herod immediately. The intrigues in our texts are added to those provided by Herod’s brother Pheroras, sister Salome, and daughter-in-law Glaphyra, the wife of his son Alexander (Bellum Judaicum 1.476–487; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.194–219). In the Bellum Judaicum, Herod’s brother and sister are suddenly pardoned. His eldest son Antipater’s intrigues at court run throughout the narrative, and apparently lead eventually to the arrest and questioning of {172|173} his half-brother Alexander (Bellum Judaicum 1.495; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.244–260). Eventually a number of other characters appear at court to support their favorite successor—eunuchs (Bellum Judaicum 1.488; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.229–230), a Spartan interloper named Eurycles (Bellum Judaicum 1.513–530; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.300–310), [26] and Alexander’s father-in-law Archelaus, the Cappadocian king, as the mediator between Pheroras and Herod (Bellum Judaicum 1.499; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.261–264). (Not coincidentally, the forged texts being discussed here come in the context of the ruses of Eurycles.) Also included is a spat with the princeps as a result of Herod’s sudden war against the Arabs (Bellum Judaicum 1.574–577; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.271–299). The two princes with which our texts are concerned, Alexander and Aristobulus, are eventually, in 7/6 BC, tried by an imperial court at Berytus and executed for their intrigues, whether real or fabricated (Bellum Judaicum 1.538–551; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.356–394). In Table 4 on the following page, both texts will be set out and then compared with regard to explicit details about the “forgery” aspect of the episode. [27]

Both texts refer to a document: in Bellum Judaicum 1.528–529 the terms are ἐπιστολή and γράμματα, and in Antiquitates Judaicae 16.318, γράμματα. This nuance does not seem to make too much difference. It is possible that Josephus changes them simply for variatio, or because he is following Nicolaus to expand his material for the Antiquitates Judaicae; in any case, Josephus remains consistent with his term in the Antiquitates Judaicae. He later refers to the evidence with the diminutive γραμματίδιον ‘little tablet’, probably placing more stress on the letter as a physical artifact, thereby emphasizing its materiality. Furthermore, the variation of terms between the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae might be explained by the fact that the letter occurs in indirect speech spoken by Alexander: “Alexander said the secretary imitated …” If Herod does not accept Alexander’s argument, perhaps he will accept his diminution of the evidence in question. In narratological terms, γραμματίδιον is focalized by Alexander—it reflects his interpretation of the document. In the Antiquitates Judaicae, the letter seems never to satisfy the reader as to its usefulness. An accusation is presented, and a letter is introduced as evidence. Here the reader may speculate that the truth will come to light. However, the letter “proves” only half of the {173|175} accusation: the commander receives Alexander and Aristobulus, but the provision of money from the royal coffers is never corroborated. This seems consistent with Alexander’s diminution of the evidence. Thus it seems that a tension is being created in the Antiquitates Judaicae account between the accusation and the quality of the evidence to support that accusation. The Bellum Judaicum is even less clear about how straightforward the evidence is: the text of the letter is presented, and then Alexander claims that it is a secretary’s forgery. Receiving the letter first, the reader may perhaps be convinced by its contents before learning that it could be a forgery. In the Antiquitates Judaicae, Josephus hints to the reader that it is “presumably” in Alexander’s hand.

Table 4.
Bellum Judaicum 1 Antiquitates Judaicae 16
[528] ἀλλ᾿ οἱ μὲν οὐδὲν τῶν διαβληθέντων ὡμολόγουν, προεκομίσθη δέ τις πρὸς τὸν Ἀλεξανδρείου φρούραρχον ἐπιστολὴ παρὰ Ἀλεξάνδρου παρακαλοῦντος, ἵνα αὐτὸν δέξηται τῷ φρουρίῳ μετὰ Ἀριστοβούλου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ κτείναντα τὸν πατέρα, καὶ παράσχῃ τοῖς ὅπλοις χρήσασθαι καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις ἀφορμαῖς. [529] ταύτην Ἀλέξανδρος μὲν ἔλεγεν τέχνασμα εἶναι Διοφάντου· γραμματεὺς δ᾿ ἦν ὁ Διόφαντος τοῦ βασιλέως, τολμηρὸς ἀνὴρ καὶ δεινὸς μιμήσασθαι πάσης χειρὸς γράμματα· πολλὰ γοῦν παραχαράξας τελευταῖον ἐπὶ τούτῳ [καὶ] κτείνεται. βασανίσας δὲ τὸν φρούραρχον Ἡρώδης οὐδὲν ἤκουσεν οὐδὲ παρ᾿ ἐκείνου τῶν διαβεβλημένων. [317] Μετὰ τούτους ὁ φρούραρχος Ἀλεξανδρείου συλληφθεὶς ἐβασανίζετο· καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνος αἰτίαν εἶχεν δέξεσθαι τῇ φρουρᾷ καὶ παρέξειν χρήματα τοῖς νεανίσκοις ὑπεσχῆσθαι τὰ κείμενα τῶν βασιλικῶν κατ᾿ ἐκεῖνο τὸ φρούριον. [318] αὐτὸς μὲν οὖν οὐδὲν ὡμολόγησεν, υἱὸς δὲ αὐτοῦ παρελθὼν ταῦτ᾿ ἔφη γενέσθαι, καὶ γράμματα ἐπέδωκεν ὡς εἰκάσαι τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρου χειρός· τελέσαντες σὺν θεῷ εἰπεῖν ἃ προεθέμεθα πάντα ἥξομεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς· ἀλλὰ πειράθητε, καθὼς ὑπέσχησθε, δέξασθαι ἡμᾶς τῷ φρουρίῳ. [320] μετὰ τοῦτο τὸ γραμματεῖον ὁ μὲν Ἡρώδης οὐκ ἐνδοιασίμως εἶχεν περὶ τῆς τῶν παίδων εἰς αὐτὸν ἐπιβουλῆς, Ἀλέξανδρος δὲ Διόφαντον ἔφη τὸν γραμματέα μιμήσασθαι τὸν τύπον καὶ δι᾿ Ἀντιπάτρου κακουργηθῆναι τὸ γραμματίδιον· ὁ γάρ τοι Διόφαντος ἐδόκει τὰ τοιαῦτα δεινὸς ἐν ὑστέρῳ τε διελεγχθεὶς ἐπ᾿ ἄλλοις οὕτως ἀπέθανεν.
They made no confession of the crimes imputed to them; but a letter was produced, addressed by Alexander to the governor of Alexandrion, requesting him to admit him and his brother Aristobulus to that fortress after they had slain their father, and to grant them the use of the arms and the other resources of the place. This letter Alexander declared to be the artifice of Diophantus, a secretary of the king, an audacious fellow who had a clever knack of imitating any handwriting, and who, after numerous forgeries, was eventually put to death for a crime of that nature. Herod had the keeper of the fortress put to the torture, but from him too failed to elicit anything bearing on the alleged facts. After these men were examined, the commander of the fortress of Alexandrion was arrested and tortured. He was accused of having promised to receive the youths in the garrison and to supply them with the king’s money that was stored in that fortress. Now he himself confessed to nothing, but his son came forward and said that this was true, and he handed over a letter, presumably in the handwriting of Alexander, which read: “When with God’s help we have achieved all that we set out to do, we will come to you. Only take it upon you to receive us into the fortress, just as you promised.” After reading this letter Herod no longer had any doubt that his sons were plotting against him. Alexander, however, said that the scribe Diophantus had imitated his manner of writing and that the little tablet had been fraudulently worded by Antipater. This Diophantus, it seems, was very clever at such things, but was later convicted of similar crimes and was put to death.

In both texts, the reader response, given the ambiguity concerning the “forgery” at episode’s end, mimics the uncertainties of the internal audience. The lack of clarity suggested here as to the truth of the letter is supported by a development of tension in the plot. In Antiquitates Judaicae 16.319, an antithesis is created with a μέν … δέ construction, which forms the tension between Herod’s inner thoughts and the external action of Alexander that propels the narrative forward: having heard the letter, Herod has no doubt about his sons’ plot against him. The external reality of the following δέ clause conflicts with the thought presented in the μέν clause—Alexander still does not confess. This is different from the Bellum Judaicum narrative, where the same construction is used, but the μέν clause is the Antiquitates Judaicae’s δέ clause, and Bellum Judaicum’s δέ clause develops Alexander’s case (Bellum Judaicum 1.529). Here we have indirect discourse, as in Antiquitates Judaicae (16.319). In both texts we get an explanation of who the secretary Diophantus is, that he is known to be clever at imitating handwriting, and so we are led to think that Alexander may well be correct. The Antiquitates Judaicae keeps the reader from reaching a clear verdict: “it seemed (ἐδόκει) Diophantus was clever at such things.” Like the Antiquitates Judaicae, the Bellum Judaicum informs us that Diophantus is later put to death for a similar crime, but with the uncertainty of Herod’s justice, this is not the most convincing evidence.

With this framework for the reliability of embedded letters in mind, let us turn to Josephus’ use of embedded letters as evidence within episodes.

Episodic Embedded Letters

One important example of an embedded letter being used as evidence within an episode involves the accusations of Alexander and Aristobulus. Recall that Herod named three successors, Antipater, {175|176} Alexander, and Aristobulus (Bellum Judaicum 1.467–468; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.244–453), which temporarily calmed his turbulent domestic situation (Bellum Judaicum 1.458–466; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.133). These intrigues augment those provided by other members of Herod’s family (Bellum Judaicum 1.476–487; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.194–219). The intrigues of Herod’s eldest son Antipater in his father’s court form a set piece (Bellum Judaicum 1.495; Antiquitates Judaicae16.244-60), and eventually implicate his half-brothers Alexander and Aristobulus.

Both the Antiquitates Judaicae and Bellum Judaicum accounts involve accusations, but they differ slightly regarding the charge that is being denied. This is significant if a letter is to substantiate a charge in either account. In the Bellum Judaicum, Herod’s servants Jucundus and Tyrannus deny accusations made by Herod’s eldest son Antipater of conspiring with Alexander and Aristobulus against Herod. Herod tortures Jucundus and Tyrannus, but they confess to none of the accusations. In the Antiquitates Judaicae, the commander of the Alexandrion fortress denies the charge that he promised to receive Alexander and Aristobulus into the citadel and to furnish them with money from the royal treasuries.

Recall that both texts employ a letter to attest to the princes’ guilt: in the Bellum Judaicum, it is referred to as ἐπιστολή, while in the Antiquitates Judaicae it is γράμματα. Alexander is supposed to have been involved with the document in both narratives. In the Antiquitates Judaicae, the letter is written “presumably in Alexander’s hand” (16.319). The Bellum Judaicum simply says that the letter is addressed by Alexander to the commander of the Alexandrion citadel. Josephus gives the letter in oratio obliqua in the Bellum Judaicum and says that Alexander requested that the commander should receive him and his brother Aristobulus in the citadel after they had killed their father. {176|177} Josephus quotes the letter directly in the Antiquitates Judaicae, which has Alexander stating, “… just as you promised to receive us …”

The extent to which the letter substantiates the charges is problematic in both texts. The information that the quotation of the letter provides in the Antiquitates Judaicae is not very substantial, though the fact that it is quoted directly adds some color and dramatic flair to the account. In fact, the quoted letter may strike the reader as rather odd because it does not explicitly measure up to the charge. Interestingly, the weakness (ἀσθενεῖς) of the letter as evidence is noted in the Bellum Judaicum (1.530) but not in the Antiquitates Judaicae. As discussed above, a tension exists between the accusation and the material available to substantiate the charges. In the Bellum Judaicum, the narrator is not as explicit regarding the real machinations of the investigation. {177|178}

Josephus’ implication and his characters’ distrust of the letter may suggest that his readers would not be surprised by the presentation of epistolary evidence in a legal context as unreliable. However, not all historians who embedded letters as evidence treated them as inherently deceptive. The dubious attitude toward the reliability of embedded letters that can be observed in Josephus may be contrasted with a text from Dionysius of Halicarnassus. [34] In his Antiquitates Romanae, Dionysius provides the story of the Volscians attempting to aid the Latins against the Romans (6.2–6.21). As the Roman dictator Postumius is rewarding warriors who had fought valiantly against the Latins, a report arrives that a troop is marching toward the Romans. The narrator notes that it is a troop of young Volscians (14.1) arriving to assist the Latins. Some {178|179} of the Volscians, discovering upon the battlefield the bodies of fallen Latins, wish to attack the Romans in their camp. Others suggest that they retreat. The prevailing judgment, however, is that they send spies to the Romans who will act as if they are allies, and will say that they have arrived too late for the battle. They will then gather intelligence regarding the Romans’ troops, arms, and plans (15.3). The “ambassadors” are admitted to the camp and announce their intentions, after which Postumius informs them that he knows their intentions already: they have been sent as allies of the Latins, and though they are ostensibly ambassadors (πρεσβευταὶ μὲν λόγῳ, 16.2), they are really spies (κατάσκοποι δ ̓ ἔργῳ, 16.2).

The assumption seems to have been made that the evidence is true: after the letters are exhibited, the Volscians confess their orders. They make no charges of forgery or trickery of any kind. The material record of letters presented publicly seems to have settled the case as to their true mission. Furthermore, some importance seems to attach to reading the evidence aloud. Merely making reference to intercepted letters and what they contain does not seem to be enough. At the same time, public reading seems a bit strange in that it raises the anger of the troops, and Postumius must calm them so that he can handle the situation in a tactically expedient way.

In summary, this episode reveals letters being used as evidence that the Volscians are not Roman allies and, by implication, that {180|181} members of the delegation are spies guilty of attempting to gather intelligence in a Roman camp under the guise of ambassadors. Only the letters are offered to attest to their guilt. And letters seem to have been enough in this text to elicit a confession and to raise the ire of the Roman troops. However, despite this affirmation of their reliability as evidence, letters prove vulnerable as a means of communication—they are intercepted—which would seem to inflect letters themselves with some ambiguity in terms of how readers might assess them. Yet letters can cut two ways: if interception does not cause the characters to be suspicious, it can give them the confidence of having caught the epistolary plotters “in the act,” as it were. In this case, although the characters do not seem to be at all suspicious of the epistolary evidence, Postumius appears not to think it will stand up against “universal law.”

The treatment of letters as at least partially reliable in the trial of the Volscian “spies” is similar to a narrative in which Xenophon has characters presenting a letter as evidence in a trial scene. In his Historia Graeca, after the battle of Arginusae, the victorious Athenians have not collected their survivors. The generals leave to provide reinforcements for Conon, who is besieged at Mytilene, while the captains Theramenes and Thrasybulus and company are to gather those whose vessels have been damaged in the battle (1.6.35). The narrator explains that they desire to do these things (ταῦτα δὲ βουλομένους ποῖειν, 1.6.35), but a wind and a great storm prevent them (ἄνεμος καὶ χειμὼν διεκώλυσεν αὐτοὺς μέγας γενόμενος, 1.6.35). {181|182}

In response, the Athenians depose the generals, with the exception of Conon, and they install Adeimantus and Philocles to serve with him. Archedemus, leader of the popular party, brings a charge against one of the generals in the battle, Erasinides, saying that he has stolen money and accusing him of misconduct as a general (κατηγόρει δὲ καὶ περὶ τῆς στρατηγίας, 7.2). The generals defend him by citing the greatness of the storm, and Timocrates moves that they be imprisoned and tried (7.3).

At the protest of Euryptolemus himself, among others, Euryptolemus is allowed to defend the generals (7.16–33). This he does by accusing them of changing their minds when they had actually wanted to send a letter (πέμπειν γράμματα, 7.17) indicating that they had left the collecting of survivors to Theramenes and Thrasybulus, who failed to do their duty: at least they should be held to account with the generals. In sum, he argues that the generals should be crowned as victors and commended for not blaming their subordinates, not treated as criminals (7.33). [41] The arguments made by Archedemus and Euryptolemus reveal the inflexibility of epistolary evidence in this case. Because the letter does not actually clearly demonstrate the culpability of the generals for the disaster, Archedemus has to argue indirectly: without a better explanation, they are guilty. On the other hand, Euryptolemus attempts to defend the generals by positing a letter that does not exist, one that indicates that they had delegated the recovery task to Theramenes and company. He has to “accuse” them of failing to send such a letter—though they had intended to—because {182|183} he apparently feels that the existing letter does not make their case; it does not adequately shift the blame to where his argument lays it, at the feet of Theramenes and Thrasybulus. The people apparently find Euryptolemus’ argument unconvincing; the generals are found guilty and those present are executed.

The outcome of this trial reveals the power of epistolary evidence. We may surmise that, because the letter does not actually read in the way that Euryptolemus suggests the generals had originally intended it would, they are found guilty. The fact that the letter is the focus of the rhetoric regarding the generals’ culpability (apart from the legality of the trial, which is the initial focus of their defense) reveals that letters are considered to be reliable and, perhaps, impartial pieces of evidence in this text. The reliability of this epistolary evidence would be undercut if the external audience were to consider letters superfluous: it may have been that the storm was to blame for the disaster, a simple explanation that would not require further substantiation.

Even in the texts from Dionysius and Xenophon, where letters are treated as reliable evidence and thus contrast with the Josephus text discussed above, the reliability of letters can subtly be called into question by other features in the narrative. In the Dionysius text, it is the narrator’s remark that Postumius is unwilling to punish the Volscian spies because he does not want to appear to be violating “universal law,” from which the epistolary evidence would presumably have released them. In Xenophon, it is the seeming simplicity of the generals’ defense, the unavoidable effect of a storm, that would obviate the need for epistolary evidence in the first place. While these are matters left largely ambiguous, which readers are left to work out, they are not unlike those in Josephus, where the nature of the epistolary evidence is not always as straightforward as it appears to be. The quality of the “Diophantus letter” is not so clear-cut, nor is the relevance of its message to the charges being reviewed in the Alexander-Aristobulus trial.

Extra-episodic Embedded Letters

Having examined Josephus’ use of letters as evidence within episodes, let us turn now to that second use of attestational letters in Josephus’ texts, letters as evidence outside of the chronological sequence of events, or extra-episodic attestations. {183|184}

Trials at Herod’s court

Letters are involved with a trial in the parallel texts found in Bellum Judaicum 2.23–25 and Antiquitates Judaicae 17.227–229, though they do not explicitly appear in the trial itself. I have excerpted the parts of the texts that involve letters from an account of a trial before Augustus, which attempt to determine the successor to Herod. I will briefly summarize the context of the letters before discussing them in detail. Five days before Herod dies (Bellum Judaicum 1.665), he orders the execution of his son Antipater, whom he had originally chosen to succeed himself (1.664). Because of this development, he again amends his wills (τὰς διαθήκας) and names Archelaus as his successor, with Antipas as tetrarch (1.664).

As Archelaus speeds to Rome, the procurator of Syria, Sabinus, meets him and his companions in Caesarea while en route to Jerusalem to take charge of Herod’s estate. The narrative intimates that he has intentions of taking advantage of disturbances at Jerusalem and the instability of Herod’s household by noting that his superior, Varus, appears at the same place and attempts to take control of Herod’s troops and fortresses (Bellum Judaicum 2.16–19). To further complicate matters, Antipas apparently sees the unrest as an opportunity to make {184|185} his own claim on the throne, based on the sixth will, and so departs for Rome himself (Bellum Judaicum 2.20; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.224).

After each makes his preliminary case in his own way, speeches are given, one against Archelaus by Herod’s nephew and another by Nicolaus, Herod’s courtier. Varus meets Augustus’ indecision with letters regarding an uprising in Jerusalem, of which Sabinus finds himself in the middle. The rest of the country, too, is in disorder, Josephus says (Bellum Judaicum 2.55–56; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.269–270), and several other usurpers appear. After Varus has put down the rebellions and Augustus has called a new council of advisors, Augustus finally decides that half of the kingdom will go to Archelaus as ethnarch and the rest will be divided between Antipas and Philip as tetrarchs (Bellum Judaicum 2.93–100).

The first character to appear in these texts is Sabinus. In both the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae, he accuses Archelaus, who appears immediately previous to this episode at Bellum Judaicum 2.22. In the Bellum Judaicum, Sabinus’ activity is connected to the plot in that all of Archelaus’ previous enemies form the antecendent of αὐτοῖς. Sabinus has authority to intervene (if at all) because he is ἐπίτροπος of Syria (2.16), apparently subordinate to Varus, legatus of Syria. Josephus first introduces Varus in Bellum Judaicum 1.617 when he materializes at Herod’s court as the imperial representative in Antipater’s trial.

In this particular episode, then, Josephus does not have Augustus use the letters in the trial scenes themselves, but as preparation for the trial. Archelaus, Varus, and Sabinus write letters to Augustus to provide background and supporting evidence for his decision. Thus letters here are not called as “witnesses” or used by witnesses in the trial, but are {185|187} considered as part of Augustus’ decision, in addition to live witnesses, since some of the important players are absent from the trial.

Table 5.
Bellum Judaicum 2 Antiquitates Judaicae 17
[23] Συνήργει δ᾿αὐτοῖς εἰς τοῦτο καὶ Σαβῖνος δι᾿ ἐπιστολῶν κατηγορήσας μὲν Ἀρχελάου παρὰ Καίσαρι, πολλὰ δ᾿ ἐπαινέσας Ἀντίπαν. [24] συντάξαντες δὲ τὰ ἐγκλήματα οἱ περὶ Σαλώμην ἐνεχείρισαν Καίσαρι, καὶ μετὰ τούτους Ἀρχέλαος τά τε κεφάλαια τῶν ἑαυτοῦ δικαίων γράψας καὶ τὸν δακτύλιον τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοὺς λόγους εἰσπέμπει διὰ Πτολεμαίου. [25] προσκεψάμενος δὲ ὁ Καῖσαρ τὰ παρ᾿ ἀμφοῖν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν τό τε μέγεθος τῆς βασιλείας καὶ τὸ πλῆθος τῆς προσόδου, πρὸς οἷς τὸν ἀριθμὸν τῆς Ἡρώδου γενεᾶς, προαναγνοὺς δὲ καὶ τὰ παρὰ Οὐάρου καὶ Σαβίνου περὶ τούτων ἐπεσταλμένα, συνέδριον μὲν ἀθροίζει τῶν ἐν τέλει Ῥωμαίων, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸν ἐξ Ἀγρίππα καὶ Ἰουλίας τῆς θυγατρὸς θετὸν παῖδα Γάιον πρώτως ἐκάθισεν, ἀποδίδωσι δὲ λόγον αὐτοῖς. [227c] καὶ Σαβῖνος κατηγόρει παρὰ Καίσαρι τοῦ Ἀρχελάου διὰ γραμμάτων. [228] Καῖσαρ δὲ Ἀρχελάου τε εἰσπέμψαντος ὡς αὐτὸν γράμματα, ἐν οἷς τὰ δικαιώματα προετίθει τε αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν διαθήκην τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοὺς λογισμοὺς τῶν Ἡρώδου χρημάτων σὺν τῷ σημαντῆρι κομίζοντα Πτολεμαῖον, ἐκαραδόκει τὸ μέλλον. [229] ὁ δὲ ταῦτά τε ἀναγνοὺς τὰ γράμματα καὶ τὰς Οὐάρου καὶ Σαβίνου ἐπιστολὰς ὁπόσα τε χρήματα ἦν καὶ τί ἐπ᾿ ἔτος ἐφοίτα καὶ ὅσα Ἀντίπας ἐπ᾿ οἰκειώσει τῆς βασιλείας ἐπεπόμφει γράμματα συνῆγεν ἐπὶ παροκωχῇ γνωμῶν τοὺς φίλους, σὺν οἷς καὶ Γάιον τὸν Ἀγρίππου μὲν καὶ Ἰουλίας τῆς αὐτοῦ θυγατρὸς υἱὸν ποιητὸν δὲ αὐτῷ γεγονότα πρῶτόν τε καθεδούμενον παρέλαβε, καὶ κελεύει λέγειν τοῖς βουλομένοις περὶ τῶν ἐνεστηκότων.
They were aided in this design by Sabinus, who, through letters to Caesar, accused Archelaus and highly commended Antipas. Salome and her friends now drew up their indictment and placed it in Caesar’s hands; Archelaus responded by drafting a summary statement of his rights and sending in his father’s ring and papers to the emperor via Ptolemy. Caesar, after reflecting in private on the allegations of both parties, the extent of the kingdom, the amount of the revenue, as well as the number of Herod’s children, and after perusing the letters on the subject that he had received from Varus and Sabinus, summoned a council of leading Romans, at which for the first time he gave a seat to Gaius, the son of Agrippa and his daughter Julia, whom he had adopted himself; he then called upon the parties to speak. Moreover, Sabinus brought charges against Archelaus in a letter to Caesar. Archelaus then sent letters to Caesar in which he set forth his claims and the testament of his father; he also sent Ptolemy to bring the accounts of Herod’s property together with his seal, and proceed to await developments. When Caesar had read these letters and also the reports of Varus and Sabinus concerning the amount of the property and the size of the annual revenue, and had looked at the various letters sent by Antipas in an effort to obtain the kingship for himself, he called together his friends to give their opinions. Among them he gave first place to his daughter Julia, whom he had adopted, and he commanded those who wished to speak about the matter before them to do so.

Another “trial” for which letters are important takes place at Bellum Judaicum 1.620–640 and Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93–133. In this episode, though Josephus appears to have a letter serve as evidence in a trial, he actually uses the letter to support his own interpretation of the events presented, which differs slightly from the previous example of an extra-episodic embedded letter. In fact, this narrative also contains an episodic letter, a feature that will throw the extra-episodic letter into further relief. The conflict between the letters involved in this trial is made even more dramatic by the dubiousness of letters as a regular feature of Josephus’ texts in general, particularly those concerning the Roman period. I will give the background to the text before discussing the function of the embedded letters.

As we have seen, Herod’s sons create various crises in his domestic life (Bellum Judaicum 1.488–543; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.229–378). The narrative of Herod’s political life begins at Bellum Judaicum 1.203. [46] Although he describes Herod as ὢν φύσει δραστήριος (“active by nature,” {187|188} 1.204), Josephus credits Herod’s father Antipater, an Idumaean who had been meddling in Judaean politics since the late 50s BC, as responsible for Herod’s first installation (1.203). Referring there to Herod’s immediate family, Josephus plants the seed for an analogy between Herod and his siblings and Herod’s sons. In the courtroom episode in which our letters appear, two generations of Herod’s domestic conflicts merge: Antipater’s alleged guilt is shared, at least in part, by Herod’s brother Pheroras (Bellum Judaicum 1.592; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.69). The Bellum Judaicum account introduces accusations against his half-Hasmonean son Alexander with an intervention by the narrator: Μετέβαινεν δὲ ἐπ᾿ Ἀλέξανδρον ὁ χειμὼν τῆς οἰκίας καὶ περὶ τὴν ἐκείνου κεφαλὴν ὅλος ἀπηρείσατο (1.488). Like its less colorful Antiquitates Judaicae parallel, the intervention, not only demonstrates the heightened drama that his sons’ trials take on, it also shows that Herod’s domestic troubles had been long-established. One character with whom he quarrels is indeed his brother Pheroras: Herod discovers a poisoning plot against himself perpetrated by Pheroras (Bellum Judaicum 1.592–601); Antipater, Herod’s eldest son, and his mother are implicated in the plot as well (1.573). Antipater is sent away to Rome, and while he is away, Herod becomes suspicious of him (1.608–613). Antipater then causes Herod to be “beset with many suspicions” (1.583), to such an extent that Herod begins to investigate Antipater’s activities tirelessly (1.584–601). While in Rome, Antipater falsifies letters to incriminate his younger brothers Archelaus and Philip, being careful to feign disgust at their misdeeds (1.604–606).

The assumption of Antipater’s guilt is not a new theme in the Bellum Judaicum narrative. Herod does banish him (1.433), preferring to promote Alexander and Aristobulus, his younger sons by Mariamme I. When those two begin scheming against Herod (Bellum Judaicum 1.446; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.67), he recalls Antipater. Then Antipater’s schemes begin. The narrator’s interventions assert his guilt in an episode in which Herod gives benefactions to the children of the murdered princes Alexander and Aristobulus, aged five and four respectively. Herod shows pity with resolution: πειρῶμαι δ᾿, εἰ καὶ πατὴρ ἐγενόμην ἀτυχέστατος, πάππος γοῦν γενέσθαι κηδεμονικώτερος (“I will make an attempt, if I have been a most unfortunate father, to be at any rate a more provident grandfather,” Bellum Judaicum 1.556). Within a few lines of Herod arranging the marriages of his grandchildren, Antipater, a member of the audience, immediately becomes “cold and hard” (ἐπαχνώθη δ᾿ εὐθὺς, 1.559), and “it was clear to everybody {188|189} that he was suffering pain” (δῆλος ἦν ἅπασιν ὀδυνώμενος, 1.559). These statements serve to confirm the narrator’s assertion about what “everybody knew”: πάντων ἐπισταμένων, ὅτι τὰς διαβολὰς τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς πάσας ἐπισυντάξειεν οὗτος (1.552). The narrator focalizes Antipater’s mind (with ὑπολαμβάνω, συλλογίζομαι, γιγνώσκω) to unveil his schemes (1.559–560).

Herod suspects Antipater’s guilt (1.564), and the Antiquitates Judaicae parallel maintains in essence the same story (17.12–18), but with two important differences. First, the narrator presents a second rationale for Herod’s betrothing of his orphaned grandchildren—so that Antipater will feel more pity on them because of their marital connections. And, second, at this stage, the audience has not yet learned that Herod is suspicious of him. In fact, the audience learns (17.18) that Herod is ignorant of Antipater’s wiles. However, an inconsistency appears at Antiquitates Judaicae 17.40, where Herod’s sister Salome reports to him Antipater’s and Pheroras’ intrigues, and the narrator says, “he already had put many things together for himself” (τῷ ἀδελφῷ ἀνέφερεν συνιέντι μὲν ἤδη τὰ πολλὰ καὶ δι᾿ ἑαυτου). Regardless of the timing of Herod’s suspicions, in both texts the narrator apparently intends to leave the narratee without doubt about Antipater’s designs.

A thorough summary of the trial is essential before discussing the letters because the placement and function of the embedded letters frame the entire trial. In both the Bellum Judaicum and Antiquitates Judaicae, a council is called for Antipater’s trial. In Bellum Judaicum 1.620, Herod gathers his relatives and friends and presides with Varus. In Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93, together Varus and Herod call a council. In the immediately preceding narrative (Bellum Judaicum 1.617), Antipater is the focus; having returned from Rome, he enters his father’s presence and Varus, the legatus of Syria, is at the time within the palace (ἔτυχεν δ᾿ ἔνδον ὢν Οὔαρος ὁ τῆς Συρίας ἡγεμών). In the Antiquitates Judaicae, Josephus has given more detail regarding Varus’ identity, with a fuller name and his order in succession: as legatus of Syria, he follows Saturninus. Saturninus appears in the trial of two other Herodian sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, in both parallel accounts (Bellum Judaicum 1.541; Antiquitates Judaicae 16.369). The repetition of detail is probably explained by the fact that mention of the legatus in the present narrative is the first in Book 17; in the Bellum Judaicum, the “current” legate is simply part of the long narrative of Book 1.

Further details about Varus in the Antiquitates Judaicae seem to fit the overall pattern Josephus has used in the preceding chapters of the Bellum Judaicum (and, in the case of Antiquitates Judaicae, chapters and {189|190} books) on Judaean foreign policy toward Rome. In general, Josephus seems to take greater care in the Antiquitates Judaicae with specific details in that regard. For example, of the four treaties that establish or re-establish Roman φιλία and συμμαχία toward the Judaean state, only two appear in the Bellum Judaicum. Bellum Judaicum 1.38, during the time of Judas Maccabaeus (167–161 BC), is bland, like most of the Hasmonean history of this section, and simply narrates: πρὸς Ῥωμαίους πρῶτος ἐποιήσατο φιλίαν. Its parallel, Antiquitates Judaicae 12.414–419, [47] mentions the alliance very similarly (ἔγνω φιλίαν ποιήσασθαι πρὸς αὐτούς), but then expands upon it with details regarding the envoys, their reception, and a quotation of the δόγμα συγκλήτου. Similarly, Bellum Judaicum 1.48 notes that Judas’ brother Jonathan (161–143 BC) “strengthened his office” (τῇ πρὸς Ῥωμαίους φιλίᾳ); but, again, its parallel (Antiquitates Judaicae 13.163–165) includes more detail as well as an account about the same envoy’s mission to Sparta. In contrast to these other Antiquitates Judaicae accounts, the renewal of the συμμαχία by Simon (142–135 BC) in Antiquitates Judaicae 13.277, with no parallel in the Bellum Judaicum, borrows its characteristic terseness. Interestingly, Josephus’ source for this period (at least in part), 1 Maccabees, contains the full quotation of a relevant letter, which Josephus neither quotes nor even mentions. The fourth alliance, Antiquitates Judaicae 13.259–266, [48] has no parallel either, which is especially interesting because its architect, John Hyrcanus (135–105 BC), receives a laudatory summary of his long reign (13.299).

After Varus’ introduction, witnesses are introduced. The letter that will be discussed in due course appears when its messengers are introduced as slaves of Antipater’s family (belonging to his mother [Bellum Judaicum 1.620] or perhaps to Antipater [Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93]). The letter, addressed by Antipater’s mother to Antipater, warns Antipater to stay away from his father because Herod has discovered everything. In the Bellum Judaicum, Antipater is brought in with these slaves (1.621); in the Antiquitates Judaicae Antipater never “enters,” but his presence is made known when he falls before his father and begs for a fair opportunity to prove his innocence (17.94; cf. Bellum Judaicum 1.621).

Antipater’s speech is presented in Bellum Judaicum in oratio recta (1.630–635) with a style that fits his mode of presentation: [52] direct and pointed clauses, rhetorical questions, vocatives, and a rapid pace; the speech is presented indirectly in Antiquitates Judaicae (17.100–105). Antipater claims that Herod’s speech provides his defense and doubts the motives charged to him (Bellum Judaicum 630–632; Antiquitates Judaicae 100–102). In the Bellum Judaicum he presents a letter from Augustus (λάβε, πάτερ, τὰ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ γράμματα, 1.633); in the Antiquitates Judaicae he refers to a letter sent by Augustus (τὰ ὑπ᾿ ἐκείνου γράμματα ἐπεσταλμένα, 17.104). Protesting that his absence {191|192} from Herod’s court has allowed schemes against him to take root, he offers himself for torture (Bellum Judaicum 1.635; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.105). Antipater’s speech rouses the council to compassion (Bellum Judaicum 1.636; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.106). Herod’s response differs in each text: in the Bellum Judaicum he alone remains without tears (ἄδακρυν), since he knows the proofs are true (τοὺς ἐλέγχους ἀληθεῖς ἐπιστάμενον, Bellum Judaicum 1.636). At Antiquitates Judaicae 17.106 he is evidently “bent” somewhat in his mind (or, more particularly, will or purpose—the meaning is not entirely clear: Ἡρώδην εἶναι καμπτόμενόν τι τῇ γνώμῃ καίπερ μὴ βουλόμενον ἔκδηλον εἶναι); although he does not want this to be conspicuous, his reaction is considered noticeable to our narrator or the audience through whom he narrates this part.

Nicolaus speaks next in the trial. To this point, the Bellum Judaicum has given the letter and speeches in oratio recta, while the Antiquitates Judaicae has presented them in indirect discourse. With most of Nicolaus’ speech, the pattern is reversed. The Bellum Judaicum provides a summary (1.637–638); Antiquitates Judaicae summarizes (17.107–109), then quotes Nicolaus (17.110–120, beginning with direct address to Antipater), then summarizes (17.121), before other accusers are introduced. In the Bellum Judaicum Nicolaus accuses Antipater of making his uncle a fratricide by involving him in the poisoning plot and accuses him of his brothers’ murders. In the Antiquitates Judaicae a close connection is made between Herod’s speech and that of Nicolaus; starting with the words with which the king begins, he repeats the arguments, this time treating them more emotionally (Νικόλαος ἀρξάμενος οἷς τε ὁ βασιλεὺς κατήρξατο λόγοις παλιλλογεῖ μειζόνως ἐκδεινῶν, 17.106). However, there appear to be more connections within Herod’s speech in the Bellum Judaicum than in the Antiquitates Judaicae. This is not surprising since the style of Herod’s Bellum Judaicum speech is closer to the style of Nicolaus’ Antiquitates Judaicae speech, especially the direct addresses to Varus, the vivid imagery, such as Herod’s at Bellum Judaicum 1.624, [53] and the fiery delivery. Nicolaus speaks of Herod’s virtue (Antiquitates Judaicae 17.107), in spite of which his sons have brought much trouble on him (17.108–109). He attempts to expose Antipater’s hunger for power, again, in spite of Herod’s beneficence (17.110–116), accuses him of corrupting Herod’s family (17.117), and chides him for speaking against the truth (ἀντιλογεῖν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ, {192|193} 17.118) and being willing to submit to torture, thereby questioning the testimony of witnesses (17.119). He appeals to Varus to rescue the king (ῥύσῃ … τὸν βασιλέα, 17.120), and then offers the testimony of witnesses (17.121–126). Though the speech has a definite ending point (Νικολάου τε παυσαμένου τῶν τε λόγων καὶ τῶν ἐλέγχων, 17.127), its progress is interrupted by narratorial interventions explaining that the evidence presented against Antipater is compelling as well as the reasons for which witnesses have given testimonies.

Table 6.
Bellum Judaicum 1.620 Antiquitates Judaicae 17.93
Τῇ δ᾿ ἐπιούσῃ συνέδριον μὲν ὁ βασιλεὺς ἀθροίζει τῶν συγγενῶν καὶ φίλων, εἰσκαλεῖ δὲ καὶ τοὺς Ἀντιπάτρου φίλους. προκαθέζεται δὲ αὐτὸς ἅμα Οὐάρῳ καὶ τοὺς μηνυτὰς πάντας ἐκέλευσεν εἰσαγαγεῖν, ἐν οἷς εἰσήχθησαν καὶ τῆς Ἀντιπάτρου μητρὸς οἰκέται τινὲς οὐ πρὸ πολλοῦ συνειλημμένοι, κομίζοντες γράμματα παρ᾿ αὐτῆς πρὸς τὸν υἱὸν τοιάδε· ἐπεὶ πεφώραται πάντα ἐκεῖνα τῷ πατρί σου, μὴ παραγίνου πρὸς αὐτόν, ἂν μή τινα πορίσῃ παρὰ τοῦ Καίσαρος δύναμιν. Τῇ δ᾿ ἑξῆς συνήδρευεν μὲν Οὔαρός τε καὶ ὁ βασιλεύς, εἰσεκλήθησαν δὲ καὶ οἱ ἀμφοῖν φίλοι καὶ οἱ συγγενεῖς βασιλέως Σαλώμη τε ἡ ἀδελφή, εἶτ᾿ εἴ τινες μηνύσειν ἔμελλον καὶ ὧν βάσανοι γεγόνασιν, δοῦλοί τε μητρῷοι τοῦ Ἀντιπάτρου μικρῷ πρότερον συνειλημμένοι ἢ ᾿εκεῖνον ἥκειν, ἐπιστολὴν φέροντες, ἧς τὸ κεφάλαιον τῶν γεγραμμένων ἦν μὴ ἐπανιέναι ὡς πάντων τῷ πατρὶ ἡκόντων εἰς πύστιν, μόνην τε ἂν καταφυγὴν αὐτῷ λείπεσθαι Καίσαρα καὶ σὺν αὐτῇ τὸ μὴ πατρὶ ὑποχείριον γενέσθαι. {193|194}
On the following day the king assembled a council of his relatives and friends, inviting Antipater’s friends to attend as well. He himself presided, with Varus, and ordered all the informers to be produced. Among these were some domestics of Antipater’s mother, recently arrested in the act of carrying a letter from her to her son in these terms: “As your father has discovered all, do not come near him, unless you have obtained support from Caesar.” On the following day Varus and the king held a council, to which were invited the friends of both sides and the relatives of the king, including his sister Salome, as well as any who were expected to give information and had been tortured, and also some slaves of Antipater’s mother who a little while before his arrival had been arrested as they were carrying a letter of which the main point was that he should not return home, since the whole matter had become known to his father, and that Caesar remained his only refuge if only he could also avoid falling into his father’s hands.

The form of each letter seems to fit the internal logic of the particular narrative in which it appears. In short, the majority of the speech material in the Bellum Judaicum is presented in oratio recta, so the letter is presented in oratio recta. In Antiquitates Judaicae, most speech material is given in indirect discourse, and the letter is presented the same way.

By contrast, Nicolaus appears in Antiquitates Judaicae on at least 18 other occasions, including parallels to the Bellum Judaicum but also obviously in unique circumstances. This seems to be because Josephus shows an interest in Nicolaus’ craftiness in carrying out assignments. For example, in Antiquitates Judaicae 16, Nicolaus goes to Rome to reconcile Herod and Augustus, who have a falling-out over Herod’s attack on Arabia. The Arab king Obadas’ executive Syllaeus (16.220) takes advantage of an uprising in Trachonitis while Herod is away in Rome (16.271). The inhabitants of Trachonitis, thinking that Herod has died, begin their habit of brigandage once again. In response, Herod’s generals put down the uprising. Forty leaders from Trachonitis flee to Arabia and are received by Syllaeus, who provides them with resources. When Herod arrives back in Judaea and hears what has happened, he goes to war against the Arabs to set right the interference of Syllaeus in his affairs, which is allowing brigands to raid the country. Herod also demands the repayment of a loan given to Obadas. Syllaeus flees to Rome to accuse Herod before Augustus (16.282–292), leading to Augustus’ displeasure with Herod.

Herod dispatches Nicolaus to Rome to mend relations (16.299). While in Rome, to ensure his success at setting matters straight between Herod and Augustus, Nicolaus takes the opportunity to accuse Syllaeus before Augustus. This builds confidence in Nicolaus’ own testimony on Herod’s behalf (16.335–356)—a detail that does not appear in the Bellum Judaicum. So Nicolaus presents various accusations against Syllaeus, which include causing the death of Obadas and other Arabs, borrowing money for criminal acts, and committing adultery in Arabia and in Rome (16.338–340). He then proceeds to tell Augustus that Syllaeus has lied to him about Herod’s activities (16.340). With this context, Augustus is obviously much less willing to trust Syllaeus’ testimony, and eventually Nicolaus wins the day for Herod. Thus Josephus reveals himself to be very aware of Nicolaus’ “spin” on events in Herod’s favor. He says as much about Nicolaus as a historian, citing this as a reason to distrust his accounts of the Herodian court (16.183–186), though he relies on them anyway. And because Josephus even acknowledges that Nicolaus had contrived charges for Herod to justify the murder of his wife Mariamme I and her sons (16.185), could we not also suspect that Nicolaus might have made a speech in which he contrived charges {196|197} against Antipater? With this in mind, the expanded speech that Josephus presents as Nicolaus’ may be fitted with this greater awareness of his ability to construct clever arguments and to be persuasive in a court of law.

To give a further example, Nicolaus appears in the Antiquitates Judaicae after the trial of Alexander and Aristobulus (16.370–372). Herod meets Nicolaus sailing into the port at Tyre from Rome and gives him a report of the trial at Berytus, asking for some indication of the attitude toward his sons at Rome. Nicolaus proceeds to give Herod an assessment, apparently in line with Roman opinion, of how his sons should be punished. Josephus gives the speech, as in our text, in oratio recta. However, neither the speech nor the speaker appears in the Bellum Judaicum (cf. Bellum Judaicum 1.543). Thus it seems that Nicolaus’ Antiquitates Judaicae speech fits into Antiquitates Judaicae’s characterization of Nicolaus, just as his Bellum Judaicum speech matches his lower profile in that work.

Running through both accounts of the trial, there is a tension between two styles of argumentation: emotiveness—it might be called apoplexy—and the employment of competing forms of evidence. Herod’s tirade so overwhelms him that he is apparently unable to finish. Antipater then begins his own defense by offering what are presented as two reliable pieces of evidence, a letter from Augustus and a testing of his own testimony under the pressure of torture. He apparently is fairly certain of his innocence, and a letter, particularly one with the credibility that the name of Augustus would inevitably carry, would seem to be as reliable as evidence can get. Both accounts note that Herod is moved to some extent by Antipater’s evidence. Nicolaus then offers, in his long, reasoned speech, the testimony of many witnesses against Antipater. As has already been discussed, Nicolaus is a regular character in this part of the Antiquitates Judaicae, and his other appearances seem to tell against his consistent trustworthiness. These details within the narrative put the reader in a difficult position: the first, extra-episodic letter appears to demonstrate Antipater’s guilt outright, but the accumulating evidence within the trial seems to cut the other way.

Table 7.
Bellum Judaicum 1.633 Antiquitates Judaicae 17
… Ῥώμη μοι μάρτυς τῆς εὐσεβείας καὶ ὁ τῆς οἰκουμένης προστάτης Καῖσαρ, ὁ φιλοπάτορα πολλάκις με εἰπών. λάβε, πάτερ, τὰ παρ᾿ αὐτοῦ γράμματα. ταῦτα τῶν ἐνθάδε διαβολῶν πιστότερα, ταῦτα ἀπολογία μοι μόνη, τούτοις τῆς εἰς σὲ φιλοστοργίας τεκμηρίοις χρῶμαι. [103]καὶ τάδε μὲν αὐτῷ τῶν ἐνταῦθα ἠγωνισμένων παραδείγματα εἶναι τῶν ἀκράτῳ εὐνοίᾳ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα πεπολιτευμένων· τῶν δ᾿ ἐπὶ Ῥώμης μάρτυρα εἶναι Καίσαρα ἐπίσης τῷ θεῷ ἀπατηθῆναι μὴ οἷόν τε ὄντα. [104] ὧν πίστιν εἶναι τὰ ὑπ᾿ ἐκείνου γράμματα ἐπεσταλμένα, ὧν οὐ καλῶς ἔχειν ἰσχυροτέρας εἶναι τὰς διαβολὰς τῶν στασιάζειν αὐτοὺς προθεμένων τὰς πλείους ἀποδημίᾳ τῇ αὐτοῦ συντεθῆναι σχολῆς τοῖς ἐχθροῖς ἐγγενομένης, ἣν οὐκ ἂν αὐτοῖς ἐπιδημοῦντος παραγενέσθαι.
Rome is witness to my filial piety and Caesar, the lord of the universe, who has often called me “Lover of his father.” Take, father, the letters from him. These are more trustworthy than the calumnies against me here; these are my sole vindication; here are the proofs which I offer of my tender feelings for you. And the struggle that he had had with them was an indication of the sincere affection with which he had acted toward his father. As for his behavior in Rome, Caesar was his witness, and he was just as difficult to deceive as was God. Proof of this was the letter sent them by Caesar, which should not rightly have less force than the slanders of those who were promoting dissension between them, most of these slanders having been composed during his stay abroad, which provided his enemies with an opportunity that would not have been given them if he had been at home.

Augustus’ letter is not quoted in either narrative. Antipater refers to it in the course of his speech to support his claims that he had been faithful to his father and could not have plotted against him. Antipater possesses the letter in the Bellum Judaicum, and he offers it to Herod. In the Antiquitates Judaicae he refers to the letter that had been sent. In both cases, Antipater argues that Augustus’ letter is more reliable than the other testimony that has been offered, and, it must be noted, comparing the testimony of the princeps to that of some slaves and other tortured informants is certainly a clever argument.

The juxtaposition of the two letters in the trial presents a conundrum to the reader, and that conundrum needs further exploration. The internal audience hears of (and in the Bellum Judaicum probably sees) {198|199} the letter from Augustus, and this, along with the rest of Antipater’s speech, moves them to compassion (Bellum Judaicum 1.636; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.106, although no explicit comment is made about the impact of the “documentary evidence”). However, the reader has read the initial letter, which appears to incriminate Antipater, and now a second document presents a different story. It seems that Josephus has deliberately given his reader more to analyze than has been provided to the internal audience. Admittedly, the letter is closely related to the trial. But it is strange that Herod makes no mention of it in his speech, as he had in the previous trial, nor does Nicolaus mention the letter. By excluding the participants, among them Nicolaus, who is both involved in the events directly and provides source material for Josephus, the historian seems to be claiming for himself a greater authority than the participants themselves have from their eye-witness perspective. He reserves for the narrator’s voice the introduction of evidence that bears on the reader’s analysis of the trial, and, although the initial letter would seem to be essential information to mention in the trial itself, the characters fail to do so.

The narrative that follows is not reassuring about the straightforwardness of letters: it refers to a forged letter by Antipater, purportedly from Herod’s sister Salome, which slanders Herod. Antipater allegedly bribes Acme, a servant of Augustus’ wife Livia, to say that she has found the letters among Livia’s documents and is forwarding them to Herod because of her goodwill (Bellum Judaicum 1.641–643; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.134–141). Herod is then even more convinced of Antipater’s guilt, so he begins further action against him and at the same time is overtaken (mysteriously) by a serious illness (Bellum Judaicum 1.645; cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 17.144, where he is “deeply pained”). Nevertheless (μέντοι), he writes a letter to Augustus regarding the discoveries.

Acta pro Judaeis as embedded letters

The acta pro Judaeis, well-known insertions of documentary material outside the immediate context of an episode, can be found in Books {200|201} 14 and 16 of the Antiquitates Judaicae. [65] Approximately 31 documents are employed—occasionally by reference but usually by quotation—in both books, [66] with the intention of demonstrating that Jews in the Roman world had “public backing with muscle behind it.” [67] Although these documents include about 21 letters of Roman provenance, [68] the epistolary nature of this selection of dossiers has received little discussion from commentators. Upon first consideration, this may seem odd, especially when most of the discussion has centered on their reliability (i.e. whether the documents are authentic), [69] their provenance (Are they from archives? A portfolio of documentary material?), [70] and their implications for our understanding of the social and political status of Jews in the Roman world. [71] However, Josephus himself seems not to weigh differently the letters as compared with other documents he quotes in these sections of the Antiquitates Judaicae. He does distinguish between document types when summarizing the evidence he has presented—decrees and letters having been received in reply by officials to letters concerning Jewish rights [72] —before he offers the conclusion he wishes his reader to draw, namely that Jews and Romans were friends (Antiquitates Judaicae 14.266). The conclusion to be drawn is a key point.

Generally, if we take the documents as loosely fitting within the narrative, their use fits the general point Josephus gives for each letter. The problem arises when the seam between document and narrative is a bit rough. So, for example, some commentators have puzzled over the apparent failure of the quoted documents to substantiate the point {201|202} Josephus says he is trying to make. Ben Zeev quotes Antiquitates Judaicae 14.217, a decree of the Senate, and notes:

This is quite true. But perhaps by saying that he will cite the decree so that readers will have proof of these statements before them (Antiquitates Judaicae 14.218), he does not mean he must necessarily include the direct language on that particular point. The document at 14.219–221 presumably represents an abbreviated version of the decree, and he cites the parts that he believes will be most persuasive to his audience. So the seemingly endless list of names (14.219–220) and the reference to the original location (ἐκ τοῦ ταμιείου ἀντιγεγραμμένον ἐκ τῶν δέλτων τῶν δημοσίων τῶν ταμιευτικῶν … δέλτῳ δευτέρᾳ καὶ ἐκ τῶν πρώτων πρώτῃ, 14.219) give the embedded document a “real” quality. The fact that the document is embedded must be significant, since the document does not have to do everything—down to the last detail—that it would have had to do as a stand-alone document. In fact, it can in a sense do more: Josephus can have the apparent benefit of stressing the physical qualities and “Roman-ness” that the mention of various names and Roman offices provides, while also stressing the important point of Jewish-Roman friendship. And including physical details with documents, here a decree, does not appear to be completely unique, since Josephus does this with the letter at Antiquitates Judaicae 12.227, discussed above. This ill fit between summary and content appears elsewhere in the relevant Antiquitates Judaicae 14 chapters, though materiality is not always a focus (14.233, 14.235, 14.247–255). It is not typical here, however, because the letter (ἐπιστολή) from Dolabella, which follows this one as a reply to a letter (γράμματα) from Hyrcanus (14.224), substantiates the introductory summary Josephus gives (14.223), as do most of the other documents. [
74] {202|203}

While in other studies it is helpful to consider whether Josephus finds models in other genres, particularly in the context of legal rhetoric, as Rajak has usefully suggested, [79] one important question to ask in this study is whether Josephus’ own practice of citing epistolary evidence elsewhere serves as a model here. He cites 62 letters in his Vita that attest the endorsement by Agrippa of his history of the Jewish War. [80] One difference there, of course, is that Josephus presents these documents as public ones that his readers can presumably consult if they wish to do so. However, Agrippa’s letters were apparently personal, and, furthermore, Agrippa was probably not directly available for questioning to confirm their veracity. But Josephus does appear to have assumed that his audience would find such embedded, quoted epistolary evidence convincing, as he does with the acta. He also mentions archives three times, which fits quite well with his description of where the Antiquitates Judaicae 14 documents might be found (266). This also fits generally with the presentation of letters, particularly formal diplomatic ones, in other Jewish historiography, such as 1 and 2 Maccabees, which demonstrates friendly relations between the Jews and other rulers. Finally, the use of the acta is similar to the fact that Josephus’ characters use epistolary evidence to make their arguments, which include emphasis on the material form as proof. Put in this context, the acta may seem less mysterious, as they can be seen as further examples of appeals to epistolary material as evidence. In many instances, letters may prove to be slippery and even weak evidence, but that may well be why Josephus handles the acta carefully, copying out names, document details, and so on. He does the same elsewhere, and so do the characters in his works.


We have seen that embedded letters can be used in a trial as direct evidence to substantiate a charge. Embedded letters can also be used as relevant to a trial, while not necessarily being included as part of that trial. These two uses I have called episodic and extra-episodic. In Josephus, especially in the Herod narratives, letters used as evidence can be considered as being of dubious quality, although in other authors, such as Xenophon and Dionysius, letters functioning in this way seem to be regarded as more reliable. This is not a strict generalization. Josephus has Antipater appeal to letters from Augustus at {204|205} Bellum Judaicum 1.633; because of their apparent source, these letters lend an air of credibility to Antipater’s case, though Josephus’ narrative shows that Antipater’s guilt is all but certain by the time of his plea before Herod. In any case, letters in trials in Josephus are generally to be regarded with suspicion and to be considered with extreme care.

However, the extra-episodic quality of letters appears to be largely unique in the genre of history. This may well be because most other historians, Thucydides, for example, use letters largely as documentary evidence. Regarding an epistolary poetics in Josephus, then, both broad categories of attestational epistolary intratexts, episodic and extra-episodic, avoid such neat generalizations as “deceptive” or “reliable.” Instead, they require that the reader take them intratextually, i.e. in the context in which they appear as portions of text related to other portions of text, and, as the worked examples have shown, as related to the whole text(s). {205|}


[ back ] 1. For Cyrus’ Median connections, especially in his accession, see Graf 1984:27.

[ back ] 2. In an interesting parallelism, Josephus begins his full narration of Antipater’s intrigues at Bellum Judaicum 1.582 with almost the same formula that he uses for Alexander: Μετέβαινεν δ᾿ ἐπὶ τὸν αὐθέντην Ἀντίπατρον ἡ ποινὴ τὸν Φερώρα θάνατον ἀρχὴν λαβοῦσα.

[ back ] 3. On the use of Greek legal documents in general in various periods, see Meyer 2004:12–43; on their use in Roman Judaea and Arabia, 191–202.

[ back ] 4. This is similar to a remark in Hesk 2000: “It would be banal simply to argue that we read Aristophanes intratextually—of course we do” (230).

[ back ] 5. Bal 1997:5; for Bal’s extensive discussion of the elements of fabulas, see 175–219.

[ back ] 6. Written testimony, i.e. out–of–court depositions or ekmarturein, were not unknown in the orators; Scafuro 1997:44–45.

[ back ] 7. σφεας τά τε βυβλία σεβομένους μεγάλως, Herodotus 3.128.4; σέβομαι is used by Herodotus to describe human dispositions and attitudes toward gods, animals, and statues (e.g. 2.42; 2.46; 2.179); Euripides also uses it to describe reverence toward/worship of Pieria: μάκαρ ὦ Πιερία, / σέβεταί σ᾿ Εὔιος, ἥξει / τε χορεύσων ἅμα βακχεύ– / μασι (Euripides Bacchae 565–568). Given that they are not animals, icons of a god, or a land, the reverence given to these scrolls seems to have been somewhat unusual.

[ back ] 8. A σφραγίς appears in three other places in Herodotus; one (7.69) refers to the stone used to make a seal. The two earlier mentions associate a σφραγίς with great wealth. In 1.192, Herodotus indicates that he will discuss the great wealth of the Babylonians; he proceeds to mention that each one has a seal (σφρηγῖδα) and a walking stick individually made (1.195.2). In 3.41, Polycrates the Samian searches among his possessions for what he would most regret losing; he chooses his signet ring (σφρηγῖδα) and tosses it into the sea. Thus commences the famous story in which a fisherman catches a fish that is served to Polycrates; while preparing the fish, his servants find the ring, and it is declared to be an ominous sign (3.42–43).

[ back ] 9. Note, too, the differently focused point made by Steiner 1994:152–153 that the bodyguards obey “the document itself”: “[i]n the absence of an obvious original voice for their grammata, the texts take on an ‘authority’ that no one else will claim … the king has disappeared behind the written signs attributed to him.” Note the similarity of this point to one made in Kurke 2000: “… the syntax of Herodotos’ first sentence is predicated on the connection made between reader and text in the absence of the author” (138); for her discussion of orality and textuality in Herodotus, see Kurke 2000:136–140; see also Longo 1981:66–67.

[ back ] 10. Morrison 2007:219–220 points out Thucydides’ preference for writing; Morrison 2004:112–115 explores the parallel to Thucydides’ writing, but note Gonzalez 2004, who argues that the question of whether the truth, accuracy, and superiority of the History hinge on its writtenness remains open. Nicias’ quoted letter has been considered to be a speech by some: see van den Hout 1949:37–40.

[ back ] 11. Marincola 1997 has noted that the “systematic use of documents or archives” is “rather strikingly absent from the ancient historians’ narrative” (103). One reason he gives to explain this feature of Greek historiography is that documents, “like all witnesses, would support whoever called them” (104–105). But here Nicias uses a document, a letter, to support his interpretation of a situation, which may be contrary to what a messenger bearing the letter would communicate: it seems Thucydides allows for a letter to provide a more absolute perspective than Marincola’s characterization of them as malleable documents. And note Hornblower 1987:88–91, who discusses Thucydides’ use of inscriptions, especially for quotation of treaties; for Thucydides’ use of inscriptions, see Thomas 1989:47–48; “his careful citation and argument [of older inscriptions for his research on the Peisistratids (Book 5)], suggest again that it was unusual to extract historical information from inscriptions” (90); it may have been unusual, but it was done. Cf. the later “epigraphic habit” in MacMullen 1982.

[ back ] 12. But note the point by Griffiths 2007:289–290 that Nicias’ letter failed because the Athenians did not recall him and did not send the number of reinforcements Nicias requested: “The superiority of a letter over a verbal account is set up as a strong proposition, but ultimately the written account suffers the same fate as did Nicias’ speeches in the Sicilian debate: The audience responds to some of his suggestions, but ignores the central point he wished to convey. This use of a letter as an individual’s tool of political control can be situated in the wider context of hegemonic literacy. When we combine this idea with previous analyses of ideas of deception and authority and democratic Athens the role of letters becomes far more highly charged. Through the intricacies of Euripides’ plots we see that writing could be an important tool in political life, but was ultimately an imperfect one and too great a reliance on its power could prove fatal.” Asserting that a letter is used as a “tool of political control” seems to mean that a letter is an attempt to persuade a recipient to take a desired action; persuasion of free-thinking individuals is relevant especially in the Athenian context. Since this is a key purpose for epistolary communication, it need not be construed as “hegemonic” or “highly charged”; it was simply a means of communicating, usually with a specific goal. In any case, Nicias’ and Thucydides’ belief about the value of the letter does not appear to change.

[ back ] 13. Euripides Iphigenia in Tauris 760: τἀνόντα κἀγγεγραμμέν ̓ἐν δέλτου πτυχαῖς.

[ back ] 14. Cropp 2000:121; cf. Euripides Iphigenia in Aulis 322, where Menelaos distinguishes between the tablet (δέλτος) and the message (γράμματα).

[ back ] 15. Euripides’ way of avoiding destruction of the material is memory: for the importance of memory as a way of “denying time’s destroying powers” in general, see de Romilly 1968:135.

[ back ] 16. Evaluation of the epistolary material as at least one facet of its reliability was a familiar concept in the late Roman republic, as Cicero Epistulae ad Brutum 2.5 shows: Labeo vero noster nec signum tuum in epistula nec diem appositum nec te scripsisse ad tuos, ut soleres. Hoc cogere volebat, falsas litteras esse, et, si quaeris, probabat (“Our friend Labeo remarked that your seal was not on the letter, that it was not dated, and that you had not written to your own people as you usually do. He drew the conclusion that the letter was forged, and, if you wish to know, the House agreed with him,” trans. Shackleton Bailey 2002:223, 225). For this point, see the third chapter of White 2010.

[ back ] 17. The theme arises again at 19.23.1–3: note especially the stress Diodorus places on the order in which the letter is to be shown to the commanders and soldiers (cf. 33.5.5); on the power of the sphragis, see Steiner 1994:114–115.

[ back ] 18. Hammond 1937:87 argues that Diodorus’ source is Ephorus.

[ back ] 19. The text notes only πρεσβευτὰς as Darius had sent before (πρότερον), not mentioning a letter; previously the ambassadors had a letter, so the same could be possible at 17.54.1.

[ back ] 20. Atkinson 1980:61–63.

[ back ] 21. For bibliography, see Atkinson 1980:271.

[ back ] 22. The tone of Darius’ letter, Atkinson 1980 suggests, was used to “aid in the characterisation of Darius and Alexander” (272).

[ back ] 23. Atkinson 1980: “…the links between Curtius’ and Arrian’s versions of Alexander’s reply are sufficiently close to show that they followed a common tradition…” (271).

[ back ] 24. That is, not the purpose of the work, which is not relevant here; for a summary of possible positions on Josephus’ purpose for the Antiquitates Judaicae, see Mason 2000 (his own view is presented on xxiii–xxxv) and Mason 2003b.

[ back ] 25. For summary of the problems of Herodian succession, see Braund 1984:139–143 and Richardson 1999:184–194.

[ back ] 26. See Bowersock 1994:19–25 = JRS 51:112–118.

[ back ] 27. With a few adjustments, the translation is from Thackeray 1927 and Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL).

[ back ] 28. See pp173–175.

[ back ] 29. The verb μιμέομαι seems mostly to have been used of the voice or of behavior, rather than of handwriting or documents (LSJ s.v. μιμέομαι).

[ back ] 30. Perhaps the most significant of these descriptions is that of Eleazar, son of the high priest Ananias, whose action of ceasing the sacrifices for the emperor were a foundation (καταβολή) for the war with Rome (Bellum Judaicum 2.409); see Goodman 1987:171–172.

[ back ] 31. This paragraph echoes the one on p175, which involves the same feature in this text; I repeat these points because they are relevant also to the attestational use of the letter.

[ back ] 32. Note that in Antiquitates Judaicae, despite Herod’s certainty of his sons’ guilt, he restrains οἱ πολλοί from killing his sons (16.320–321) and instead imprisons them. In the Bellum Judaicum, he simply imprisons them before their official trial at Berytus (1.535).

[ back ] 33. This arrangement probably presses to the extreme the note in Denniston 1934 that “the strength of the antithesis varies within wide limits” (370).

[ back ] 34. For the link between Dionysius and Josephus, Thackeray 1929:56–58 offers that the Antiquitates Judaicae is intended as a “counterpart” to Dionysius’ history of 20 books; Thackeray also finds two echoes of Dionysius, though Josephus never cites the historian directly. Essential reading on the question of influence is Mason 2003b; see also Beard 2003:544–545n4, Cohen 1979:25–26, Hadas-Lebel 1994:101.

[ back ] 35. Dionysius of Halicarnassus Antiquitates Romanae 6.17.1: Ἐπισχὼν δὲ τὴν ὁρμὴν τοῦ πλήθους (trans. Cary 1971). Note the common theme of the wise leader reining in the fury of the mob.

[ back ] 36. Torture and execution were the standard punishment among Greeks as well; Richmond 1998:2.

[ back ] 37. Note another instance of thorough analysis with letters at 20.4.5–6; for this trait in Dionysius, see Gabba 1991:80–85.

[ back ] 38. Cary 1971: “contrary to the law of nations” (289); cf. Thucydides 3.56.2: κατὰ τὸν πᾶσι νόμον καθεστῶτα. For the concept in Thucydides, see Sheets 1994.

[ back ] 39. Cf. Livy 2.4.4, where the letters from the conspirators are proof of their deeds.

[ back ] 40. This is the interpretation of Gray 1989 as well: “He seemed to be suggesting that it was not good enough to blame the storm, and that since they blamed no other person, they must be personally to blame themselves” (84).

[ back ] 41. For an analysis of the whole speech, its content, style, themes, and place in the Historia Graeca, see Gray 1989:84–91.

[ back ] 42. For background and some analysis, see Richardson 1999:298–301, although his invocation and employment of a cryptic reference in two synoptic gospels and the theoretical source Q to Archelaus’ troubled succession (299–300) do not seem to be cautious enough.

[ back ] 43. Adapted from Thackeray 1927 and Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL).

[ back ] 44. On the documents in Bellum Judaicum 2.24, see Mason 2008:20n141.

[ back ] 45. For the “in person” aspect of the proceeding, see Gleason 2001:65–66 on the importance of body language.

[ back ] 46. Landau 2003:116 (= Landau 2006:70) places the beginning of Herod’s political life a chapter later, at Bellum Judaicum 1.204.

[ back ] 47. Gruen 1984:42–46.

[ back ] 48. Gruen 1984:748–751.

[ back ] 49. For general notes on the speeches in the Bellum Judaicum text, see Landau 2003:134–137, and in the Antiquitates Judaicae, 201–205.

[ back ] 50. This is not a new theme in the Bellum Judaicum; see 1.467–472.

[ back ] 51. The Antiquitates Judaicae would read like the Bellum Judaicum in this regard; however, the insertion of ἔλεγεν in E, preferred by Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL) and not by Niese in the Editio Maior, allows that Nicolaus spoke. So Marcus reads: δεηθέντι τῷ βασιλεῖ τὰ λοιπὰ εἰπεῖν ἔλεγεν ὁπόσα ἀποδείξεών τε καὶ ἐλέγχων ἐχόμενα ἦν. In any case, Antipater interrupts the proceedings.

[ back ] 52. For a summary of the speech, see Varneda 1986:114–115.

[ back ] 53. Cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 17.109: ὥσπερ τὰ ἰοβολώτατα τῶν ἑρπετῶν μὴ μαλαχθέντος; 117: τολμῶν θηρίον ἀποκαλεῖν τὸν πατέρα; 117: παντὸς ἑρπετοῦ χαλεπωτέραν τὴν διάνοιαν κατεσκευασμένος; 120: οὐδὲ πονηρὸν θηρίον, ἐπ᾿ ὀλέθρῳ μὲν τῶν ἀδελφῶν εὔνοιαν προσποιούμενον τοῦ πατρός.

[ back ] 54. Moehring 1957:120–123 considers the poison throughout the narratives of Herod’s suspicions to be a “novelistic element” and thus purely “fictitious.”

[ back ] 55. Adapted from Thackeray 1927 and Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL).

[ back ] 56. This is like Thucydides’ use of τοιόσδε with the letter of Nicias to the Athenians from Sicily (7.10–15); but he also uses τάδε for the quotation of some letters (1.128.6–7; 129.3); see Westlake 1989:7, and discussion above (pp64–65) of these quotation formulas. For a listed summary of the evidence of Josephus’ awareness and employment of Thucydides, see Schwartz 1990:224; for the comparison, we need not go so far as to accept the thesis, now part of a outmoded debate, about Thucydidean and Sophoclean “hacks,” especially that “notorious tribe” of “Thucydideans”; Thackeray 1929:100–124.

[ back ] 57. The spatial implication of the word itself (μὴ παραγίνου πρὸς αὐτόν, “do not come near to him”) is obvious in that it assumes the one to whom the imperative is addressed is “far off,” i.e. not near the subject, and, as is the case with the nature of epistolary correspondence in antiquity, not near the author of the document.

[ back ] 58. A Nicolean fragment gives evidence of a similar rearrangement of material in this episode: Nicolaus himself reports that he advised Herod regarding Antipater’s punishment. But Josephus seems to have omitted the detail entirely from the Bellum Judaicum and mentions it in the Antiquitates Judaicae without crediting Nicolaus; FGrH IIA 90, F136.6; cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 17.144–145; Wacholder 1989:169n112.

[ back ] 59. The general point of Josephus’ references to Nicolaus in Antiquitates Judaicae is noted by e.g. Cohen 1979:58, who rightly notes his reference to Nicolaus in Bellum Judaicum 1.574; Antiquitates Judaicae 17.54, which is “utterly incomprehensible” to a Bellum Judaicum reader.

[ back ] 60. Cf. Plutarch’s mention of Asinius Pollio at Caesar 32.7: τροπὰς ἔσχεν αὐτῷ τότε τὸ βούλευμα πλείστας· πολλὰ δὲ καὶ τῶν φίλων τοῖς παροῦσιν, ὧν ἦν καὶ Πολλίων Ἀσίνιος, his reference to Pollio as a first-hand source elsewhere in the Caesar (φησι Πολλίων Ἀσίνιος … παρὰ τὸν τότε καιρόν, 46.2), and his mention of Polybius in Philopoemen’s funeral procession: αὐτὴν δὲ τὴν ὑδρίαν ὑπὸ πλήθους ταινιῶν τε καὶ στεφάνων μόλις ὁρωμένην ἐκόμιζεν ὁ τοῦ στρατηγοῦ τῶν Ἀχαιῶν παῖς Πολύβιος καὶ περὶ αὐτὸν οἱ πρῶτοι τῶν Ἀχαιῶν (Philopoemen 21.5); Plutarch also refers to him explicitly as a source in that work (Philopoemen 16.3).

[ back ] 61. Translation from Thackeray 1927 and Marcus and Wikgren 1963 (LCL).

[ back ] 62. Note a similar situation in Livy 4.20, where Livy leaves as a puzzle for readers to decide (4.20.8) whether Cornelius Cossus deposits in the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius the spolia opima while he is military tribune, as Livy’s historical sources say (20.5), or as consul (20.6), as Augustus suggests based on an inscription Augustus claims he had found in the temple (20.7); for discussion of the issue and bibliography, see Sailor 2006. This similarity was pointed out to me by Professor C. Pelling.

[ back ] 63. Though this is unlikely, given that false (or over-performed) letters are not always ruled out of court in these narratives, as the example of Alexander’s trial in this chapter’s introduction shows.

[ back ] 64. Some examples: Antiquitates Judaicae 16.363, 17.52 (Bellum Judaicum 1.573), 17.80 (1.602), 17.83–84 (1.609), 17.134–140 (1.641–644), 18.307 (2.203); Vita 48–50, 85–86, 221–227, 319–321.

[ back ] 65. They are surrounded by narrative in the form of narratorial interventions, as I will discuss below.

[ back ] 66. Rajak 1984 lists the documents, including references, document types (112n18), and geographical designations (112n17).

[ back ] 67. The seminal interpretation of Rajak 1984 is that Jews did not have “special status” with the Roman suzerain, but that the Romans were the Jews’ “worldly protagonist,” and in general Jewish laws were not “formally incompatible with city requirements” such that formal, civic relations with Jews would have required a unique charter defining their standing (107).

[ back ] 68. For a list, see Rajak 1984:112, 112n18.

[ back ] 69. See Ben Zeev 2003, 2006, and Eilers 2010:306–310.

[ back ] 70. For a summary of scholarship on authenticity, see Ben Zeev 1998:1–11; and see Eilers 2003, who identifies “archival tags” in some documents and argues that they were part of a dossier, the purpose—of at least the Caesarian part—being “to argue, with documentary support, that Rome favoured the Jews and that Jewish privileges within the city should be expanded” (24).

[ back ] 71. The still classic article on this is Rajak 1984; see also Ben Zeev 1998:451–482.

[ back ] 72. Antiquitates Judaicae 14.265: … γράμματα πρὸς τὰς περὶ τῶν ἡμετέρων δικαίων ἐπιστολὰς ἀντιπεφωνημένα τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν.

[ back ] 73. Ben Zeev 2003:15.

[ back ] 74. Cf. Antiquitates Judaicae 14.228, 230, 231–232, 234?, 236, 237–240, 241–243, 244–246, 256–258, 259–261, 262–264; 16.162–165, 166, 167–168, 169–170, 171, 172–173.

[ back ] 75. See Gruen 2002: “Paradoxically enough, it is the very confusion in Josephus’ dossier—the errors, disorder, overlap, and redundance—that constitutes the strongest argument for authenticity! Any self-respecting forger would have provided a tidier assortment” (85).

[ back ] 76. See Pelling 2000b:119–122, esp. 121, which discusses Thucydides.

[ back ] 77. Rajak 2003 finds little literary sophistication in Josephus’ insertion of “archival material.”

[ back ] 78. Rajak 2005:92.

[ back ] 79. See Rajak 2003:4–5.

[ back ] 80. See p23.

[ back ] 81. For the authenticity of the letter, which is not an issue directly relevant to my discussion, see Marcus 1937:481–491 (LCL).