Josephus and his assistants

In Contra Apionem book 1, 50, (p.183 of the Loeb) we find the following interesting statement about how Josephus worked on the Jewish War:

Then, in the leisure that Rome afforded me, with all my materials in readiness, and with the aid of some assistants for the sake of the Greek, at last I committed to writing my narrative of the events.

It is useful to see this.  It is a reminder that the process of composition may not be straightforward, and the presence of such “assistants” should be considered, when we attempt to draw conclusions based upon stylistic considerations.

4 Responses to “Josephus and his assistants”


  1. Duane

    Interesting passage. To what do you suppose τὴν Ἑλληνίδα refers specifically? Is this the term he normally uses to indicate the Greek language?

  2. Roger Pearse

    I don’t know, I have to say. You’re undoubtedly right that we need to see how he expresses the idea elsewhere.

    My assumption is that Josephus composed a draft himself, and then handed it over to assistants to clean it up and turn it into literary Greek.

    For instance, I’ve been handed translations of texts into English by people for whom English was not their first language, and I have gone through these and rectified the grammar, syntax and idiom.

    But it is merely an assumption that this is what they did. It may have gone further. It may be a way of saying that these assistants basically ghostwrote the book, after getting a verbal brief from Josephus.

    It’s an interesting passage, thus.

  3. Tom

    Josephus also says:

    For those of my own nation freely acknowledge that I far exceed them in the learning belonging to Jews; I have also taken a great deal of pains to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with sufficient exactness; for our nation does not encourage those that learn the languages of many nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods

    Antiquities of the Jews 20,11.2

    If I recall correctly, somewhere else Josephus claims that he wrote the Jewish War (and maybe the Antiquities) in Greek and Hebrew. He also claims that he quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures and not the Greek translation. I believe that scholars tend to dismiss both claims and believe he wrote in Greek and quoted from the Septuagint. However, as your passage suggests, perhaps he wrote first in Hebrew and then translated it into Greek with the help of assistants, or perhaps they did it for him. Matthew could have done the same with his gospel as well, as you know the church fathers, Papias in particular, claim that he wrote the gospel in Hebrew.

    Also, some of the Syriac translations of the Greek Gospels quote from the Syriac Old Testament whenever one of the Gospels quotes from the Old Testament. The implication is that whenever the translator came across a OT quotation in the Greek Gospel, they paused to look up the passage in the Syriac Old Testament and translated from that instead of the Greek that was before him. Josephus of course could have done same with his own work.

    A related question, there were ancient scholars who wrote in more than one language (Tertullian I believe says that he wrote some works in Greek). But do we have any extent works from an author that were originally written in more than one language (later translations do not count). I don’t think we have any Greek works by Jerome do we?

  4. Roger Pearse

    Thank you — these extracts are very helpful.

    Tertullian’s Greek works are all lost. I don’t think we have any of Jerome’s Greek works.

    Didn’t Suetonius write in both languages?