Thursday, July 22, 2010

how little things have changed

I've assigned Steve Mason's helpful book, Josephus and the New Testament (Second edition; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), for my World of the New Testament course. Mason offers a fascinating précis of the interpretation of Josephus in early Christian writers as part of his explanation of the preservation of Josephus's writings (9–19). That interpretation exhibits a special fascination with Josephus's account of a mother who ate her infant son due to starvation during the final stages of the siege of Jerusalem (War 6.201–13). Mason briefly chronicles how early Christians writers read Josephus's description of Jerusalem's destruction apologetically, and how this reading distorted Josephus' actual account. For these writers, "Josephus's account of the war could be used as apparent proof of the Christian belief that the Jews had become God's enemies by rejecting Jesus and the claims of his followers" (19; original emphasis).

In light of how early Christians removed Josephus from his Jewish milieu and "domesticated [him] to Christian use" (16), and given the distortions that resulted from this domestication, I wonder what effects our reading of NT texts outside their Jewish milieux (and subsequent domestications?) have had on our interpretations of those texts. From our perspective, which takes Josephus's Jewishness at face value, the early Christians' ways of reading Josephus appears strange, even falsified. Might our ways of reading of NT texts eventually seem strange, even falsified?

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