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Homework and Essays
The Importance of Flavius Josephus
in the study of The Exodus
Gary D. Pignatello
  Doctor of Biblical Egyptology Course Essay                                                                                   
Universal Life Church Seminary                                                                                       2012
 
 
            Throughout this course I made use of many of the references provided in the readings, and I found them all to be interesting and informative.  But the life of Josephus grabbed my attention from the moment of his introduction and still has not let go.  I have found his life and works so fascinating that I was compelled to begin a side study of him while completing the requirements of this course.  Interesting historical accounts, however, were not enough to satisfy me.  I wanted to find a framework to help me determine, or at least form an intelligent opinion on, the validity of his work.  This paper is the genesis of that pursuit. 
            With privilege comes opportunity; this fact is as true now as it was in 37 A.D.   And when opportunity is coupled with a high degree of personal initiative, the potential for greatness begins to percolate.  Considering the status of the family he was born to and his position in society as a Pharisee Priest, it is reasonable to assume that Josephus ben Matthias would likely have lived a life of distinction and important societal contribution.  As it turned out, such an assumption was not only reasonable it was also abundantly true in his case.  His ultimate value to the ages, however, may have manifest itself not through the priesthood, but through military prowess and a keen eye for political maneuvering as Flavius Josephus, confidant to the very man who would bring Jerusalem to its knees. 
            I do not believe that Josephus could easily be characterized as a good man.  In my opinion he was an opportunist at best, and a self-serving traitor at worst.  Nonetheless, his position as a pivotal figure in our ability to study antiquity in its context is undeniable.  Perhaps it was the very contradictions that seemed to swirl around him that made his place in history possible; who else could have held the perspective of Jew and Roman Citizen, commander and prisoner of war, historian of, and traitor to, his people?   Perhaps it was guilt over his treasonous actions that compelled him to put pen to paper and write historical accounts so valuable they would survive almost two thousand years.  There is, of course, no way of knowing the answers to the questions I pose.  The course of his life does, however, make him as interesting as he is important.
            I began to research the methods for studying and determining the validity of ancient manuscripts with the intent of applying the criteria to the works of Josephus.  This was a daunting task but I was able to find a few excellent resources.  One item of particular interest I found was a guideline on reading primary resources.  In his paper, "How to read a primary source (2004)," Patrick Rael outlines a five-step guide.  His work helped me to identify and use the standard criteria for studying and evaluating ancient texts that could be applied universally.  It also helped refine my methods which, in turn, led me to a paper written by Matthew Tague (2001) entitled, "Can the Bible Be Trusted?"  In his paper, Tague set out to determine the validity of The Bible using the criteria that I mentioned above along with rules for presenting evidence in courts of law.  This was a compelling work in which he clearly explained his use of a three-step method for determining validity in an ancient text.  The steps Tague used in his evaluation of the Bible's validity were, 1) the number of copies of an ancient document that still exist and how close they are to the original copy, 2) whether the document claims to be a historical account, and 3) if the document is verified through archeology and other ancient writers.  I applied Tague's criteria to "The Antiquities of the Jews" in an attempt to come to a judgment about the validity of Josephus' references to The Exodus using the quantitative and objective method that he delineated.  The results, which I will explain in the body of this paper, were quite amazing. 
            I was disheartened at first by the fact that no original manuscripts of any of Josephus' works exist.  I assumed that would prove to be a significant stumbling block, however, it turned out not to be an issue at all.  I quickly found out that having possession of original copies is not a critical part of the criteria for determining an ancient document's validity.  Examples of this abound.  For instance, no original works of Homer, Plato, or Aristotle exist (Tague, 2001), and those works are cornerstones in the foundation of western philosophy and civilization.  Indeed, almost none of the ancient documents that we use to set the standards in a myriad of academic disciplines exist in their original form.  So far, my jumping off point was solid.  Next, it was time to apply Tague's criteria.
            The method I used to evaluate Josephus' "Antiquities of the Jews" was the same mentioned above.  This is a three-step process that consists of the bibliographical test, the internal test, and the external test.  The bibliographical test asks, how many manuscript copies of the document currently exist and how close to the original do they date?  I am unclear on just how many manuscript copies exist, however the date of "Antiquities" provides a very strong case for validity.  A manuscript written within a thousand years of the source document is the standard time length used in this step.  As the date of a work reaches past a thousand years its validity begins to decline.  Antiquities of the Jews dates to about 70 AD, which puts it comfortably within 1500 years of the Exodus.  More importantly, however, is the fact that Josephus references direct contact with Manetho's manuscripts, which were written less than 1200 years after the approximate date of the Exodus.  The earliest copies of Plato's writings date from about 1300 years after he wrote the originals and that is considered a perfectly reasonable time distance regarding their reliability.  Certainly, if Plato is assumed to be valid after 1300 years Manetho must be afforded at least the same level of validity for a lesser time period.  "Antiquities" is a direct beneficiary of this since it has the work of Manetho as its source.
            So far Josephus gets a check in the plus column for test number 1.  Test number 2, the Internal Test, asks whether the document itself claims to be an historical account.  "Antiquities" not only makes this claim, it is an account written by the pre-eminent Jewish historian of the time.  As such, we can realistically assume a high level of professionalism in his accounting of events.  Few people would have had the level of access to firsthand knowledge and ancient documents as did Josephus.  Additionally, his perspective as a Jew was quite unique for the day as compared to his ruling Roman counterparts who might have been tempted to skew the history of the people they subjugated.  Josephus addresses this notion:
            "Now of these several reasons for writing history, I must profess the two last were             my own reasons also; for since I was myself interested in that war which we Jews             had with the Romans, and knew myself its particular actions, and what conclusion             it had, I was forced to give the history of it, because I saw that others perverted    the truth of those actions in their writings."  (Josephus, AD 67)
           
            So far, Josephus' work holds up to the first two tests solidly.  The External Test, the final criteria, compares his work to records in other disciplines.  This test asks the important question, "Do archeology and other writers support Josehpus?"  My assertion is a resounding, yes.  I found evidence within the chapters of this course, in reference materials from some of the lessons, and in completely independent sources.  Even with my admitted lack of expertise in this area I was able to find at least two solid links between Josephus and other writers, and another three supported by archaeological data.
            Writers who support Josephus were relatively easy to find, in fact, I need only look to the Bible to start.  Goldberg (1995) notes several "coincidences" between the Emmaus Narrative in Luke and Josephus' "Antiquities".  Essentially, Antiquities of the Jews (Book18, chapter 3.3) and Luke (24:18-27) align very closely in their accounts of Jesus.  Some scholars have attempted to point out these coincidences as evidence that "Antiquities" is a forgery written centuries after Josephus.  Goldberg, however, asserts that the most likely conclusion is that both writers, who were contemporaries, share an ancient source in the production of their narratives (see Goldberg, 1995 for a detailed description).
            A second independent source that corroborates Josephus' writing about the Exodus springs from fairly recent discoveries made using cutting edge technology.  In his paper, "The Exodus Controversy" Mario Seiglie (2009) noted the presence of ancient caravan routes that have been discovered through satellite infrared technology.  These routes show "… ancient tracks made by a massive number of people going from the Nile Delta straight south along the east bank of the Gulf of Suez and around the tip of the Sinai Peninsula."  He also notes the presence of large campsites along the route that support both the book of Exodus and the writings of Joesphus.
            Finding written support for Josephus' account of the Exodus can be problematic because of the many political and religious ideas, agendas, and dogma brought to, and working against, the field of Bible study.  Ancient documents can be debated ad nauseam since they now exist outside of the context, languages and cultures of their time.  Thus, "proving" legitimate but non-physical bits of evidence will often times lead to polite academic stalemates simply due to the nature of studying events that occurred millennia ago.  Physical evidence, however, is far less constrained by interpretation.  That being said, I found that the support for Josephus in written form is fairly clear and quite interesting; the support found in the archaeological data, however, is fascinating. 
            I found an article titled, "Evidence of the Exodus" (2009) on a blog called Gladio Mentis- the sword of the mind.  The author of this article pointed out several archaeological discoveries that support the Exodus and therefore the writings of Josephus.  Among the evidence is the excavation of an ancient slave town by archaeologist Flinders Petrie called Kahun in the late 19th century.  Kahun lay in Middle Egypt and had a large living area for slaves and other workmen and their families.  When excavating the area where the slave homes were located Petrie found many wooden boxes containing the bodies of young infants buried under the homes.  The archaeological record proves that an event occurred that culminated in the death of a large number of Egyptian slave children, this fact is indisputable.  Another notable discovery was the amount of common items found in the same excavation, suggesting a hasty departure on the part of its inhabitants.  Couple this with the knowledge that Akenaten ruled during the Exodus and he was not a first-born son, and a strong historical record is easily established which supports Pharaoh's killing of Hebrew infants (Exodus 11:4) as well as "Antiquities" (book 2, 9.2).
            The final archaeological evidence I will present comes from the Ipuwer Papyrus Scroll.  Written during the 19th Dynasty and discovered in Egypt in the early 1800's it describes a series of tumultuous and devastating events, some with clear parallels to the ten plagues (Exodus 7-11).  In the article, Hebrews in Egypt- Slave and Plagues-Extra Biblical Proof! (2011) Aaron Kolom relates the descriptions of those who witnessed these events:
        "We don't know what has happened in the land."  "The river is blood .. there is blood everywhere, no shortage of death .. many dead are buried in the river lacking are grain, charcoal .. trees are felled .. food is lacking .. great hunger and suffering". {The first plague}; "destruction of grain" {The plague of hail or locusts}; "animals moaning and roaming freely"; "darkness" {The ninth plague};  Deaths of the "children of princes, prisoners, brothers" {The tenth plague, deaths of all the first-born};  "Gone is what yesterday has seen. See now, the land is deprived of kingship. See, all the ranks, they are not in their place .. like a herd that roams without a herdsman."
 
I believe that to say these sources make a compelling case for the validity and importance of Flavius Josephus and his writings would be a gross understatement.  When one considers the fragility of artifacts, the passage of millennia, the organized efforts by the Roman Empire to wipe out the very information we seek, shifts in culture, and all the myriad events that have occurred since the Exodus, one must stand in awe of the fact that any information survived at all.  The question begs, how did evidence of the Exodus survive?  I can think of two possible scenarios to answer this extremely important question.  One answer is that most of the information regarding the Exodus was miraculously spared from the flames of history, which is not likely.  The other answer is, perhaps, so much evidence of the Exodus once existed that even the relatively small amount to survive is vast enough for a part-time 21st century student like myself to find.  When you add to this the poignant assertion made by Jeff Laird,
            "Modern history has an emphasis on objectivity and the recording of minute details.              Ancient history, especially when it was related to the legacy of a ruling family, was             not necessarily so objective.  In other words, we can't expect to find direct mention             of an episode that so clearly showed the weakness of Egyptian religion and the             limited power of the Pharaoh.  What we can expect to find, and do find, are pieces of         secondary evidence.  (2009)"
it makes one wonder that perhaps the existence of any evidence at all, in a strange way, is evidence itself.
            The amount of information I was able to find supporting the Exodus did indeed occur, whether strictly or loosely based on the Bible's account, was astounding.  I say this because of the popular idea that the Bible is neither provable nor historically accurate.  It has been my experience that such statements are made equally in academia and personal conversations with such a high degree of assurance that it often makes studying biblical topics seem naïve and provincial.   But, if we wherewithal to step back and remove ourselves from the popular dogma, new ideas are able to germinate.   One such idea is an alternative as simple as merely holding the bible to the same standards as non-religious texts such as the reliance on support rather than hard proof.  When done, a whole new understanding of the Bible emerges.  In short, the application of objectivity and fairness to bible study is all that is required to find its significance as both a book of worship and an historical tome.    
            This course has provided me with a number of tools and a new perspective on history in general and the Bible in particular.  As such, the completion of this course signals the continuation of my studies rather than the end of them.

References
Clifton, Matthew Keedy (2009).  Archaeology and the Date of the Exodus.  [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.the7ones.com
 
 
Federspiel, Nick DCS.  (2011).  Dr. of Biblical Egyptology course.  Chapter 17.  Universal Life Church Seminary. Online course at http://www.ulcseminary.org/seminaryProgram.php
 
 
Goldberg, Gary J. Ph.D.  (1995) The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus.  The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha. 13 pp. 59-77
 
 
Goldberg, Gary J. Ph.D.  (Date unknown).  A chronology of the life of Josephus and his Era.  [Web log post].  Retrieved from Josephus.org, www.josephus.org/joschron.htm.
 
 
Kolom, Aaron (2011)  Hebrews in Egypt- Slaves and Plagues- Extra Biblical Proof! [Web log post].  Retrieved from EzineArticles.com, http://EzineArticles.com/1804275.
 
 
Laird, Jeff.  Evidence of the Exodus.  (2009).  Gladio Mentis- The Sword of the Mind. [Web log post].  Retrieved from http://swordofthemind.blogspot.com/2009/04/evidence-of-exodus.html.
 
 
Rael, Patrick. How to Read a Primary Source. (2004). Associate Professor of History Bowdoin College Brunswick, Maine
 
 
Seiglie, Mario (2009).  The Exodus Controversy.  Associates for Biblical Research, Retrieved from www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2009/08/09/The-Exodus-Controversy.aspx
 
Tague, Matthew (2010).  Can the Bible Be Trusted? Unpublished manuscript.  
 
 
Whiston, William (Translator). (1998).  Josephus, The Complete Works.  Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 
 
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Full ref. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed. Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
 

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