Between Tradition and Innovation: Josephus's Description of the Tabernacle (Ant. 3.108-150) ...

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Between Tradition and Innovation: Josephus's Description of the Tabernacle (Ant. 3.108-150) ...

Post by MrMacSon »

This paper investigates and provides a tentative explanation of Josephus’s terminological choices and motivations in his description of the tabernacle compound—notably the court and the framework of the tabernacle ...


As a general tendency, Josephus’s writings show more terminological divergences from, than coincidences with, the Septuagint of Exodus in the description of the tabernacle. Although the use of the vocabulary of the Greek Bible would have made Josephus’s enterprise easier in such a complex technical section, he mostly employs a different lexicon. In several cases, his terminology is more up-to-date and indeed attested in technical sources of the Hellenistic and Roman time, as we have seen notably in the description of the framework of the tabernacle (§ 5).

In the case of the court, Josephus’s terminology emphasizes that the tabernacle was a tent and not a temple—made clear from his diction, the word for “shafts” (§ 4.2), as well as the references to the cords, and to winds (§4.4). By Josephus’s lights, writing in this manner, the account of the tabernacle would be historically and terminologically more accurate than that of the Greek Bible.

Josephus’s words provide a clearer interpretation of the Hebrew in cases where the latter does not convey a straightforward meaning. These cases also suggest that, for Josephus, the Septuagint did not render the Hebrew in the most suitable way. There are also cases of terminological coincidence between Josephus and the Septuagint (and Philo). In those cases, Josephus seems to engage more closely in a dialogue with the Septuagint. The coincidences, however, are primarily at the macroscopic level, and, as we have seen with the names of the tabernacle furniture, although the same individual objects may be present, they are designated with different words (§ 6). For the description of the court and the framework of the tabernacle, the strongest case of coincidence with the Septuagint seems to be that of the word ὕφος, from ἔργον ὑφαντόν of LXX Exod 26:31 and 37:3.5. In that case, however, an influence of Philo or an independent rendering cannot be excluded either (§ 4.5).

In sum, the analysis of Josephus’s terminology for the tabernacle account confirms and complements the tendency that Josephus shows in other aspects of his Antiquities, such as the use of declined names and the presence of a less paratactic syntax compared to the Septuagint. Josephus’s account of the tabernacle is closer than the Septuagint to the up-to-date technical terminology which was required by this specific narrative. Such a use has been pointed out by Jonathan Roth also for military terms: for example, Josephus chooses τάγμα to indicate a Roman legion, which was the commonly attested word in contemporary Greek inscriptions and texts.

However, in the very section of the description of the tabernacle where Josephus aims at a more updated and more specific terminology, he also makes a concerted effort to come closer to the interpretation of the Hebrew, likely deeming that the Greek translators did not always express the Hebrew appropriately. In his prologue to Antiquities, the historian indicates that he has superseded the work of the Septuagint by covering not only the Pentateuch but also the rest of the Bible: “For not even he [Eleazar] anticipated me in obtaining the entire Scripture, but those who were sent to Alexandria to translate it transmitted this portion alone, namely of the Law” (Ant. 1.12).

Yet, Josephus goes a step further than the Septuagint by not only encompassing the entire Scripture, but also by ‘revising’ it according to a higher Greek standard and an interpretation closer to the Hebrew of his time.

... in commenting on the translation of the Torah promoted in Alexandria, Josephus acknowledges, and even seems to promote, the practice of “private emendation.” 65 While the Letter of Aristeas 311, echoing Deut 4:2 and 12:32, curses anyone who would alter any word of the Law by addition, alteration, or omission, in Josephus’s reinterpretation there is no curse: whoever sees an addition or an omission to the written text of the Law is expected to re-examine it, make it known, and eventually correct it (διορθοῦν).
  • (108) All of them, including the priest and the eldest of the translators and the chief officers of the community, requested that, since the translation had been so successfully completed, it should remain as it was and not be altered.
    (109) Accordingly, when all had approved this idea, they ordered that, if anyone saw any further addition made to the text of the Law or anything omitted from it, he should examine it and make it known and correct it (εἴ τις ἢ περισσόν τι προσγεγραμμένον ὁρᾷ τῷ νόμῳ ἢ λεῖπον, πάλιν ἐπισκοποῦντα τοῦτο καὶ ποιοῦντα φανερὸν διορθοῦν); in this they acted wisely, that what had once been judged good might remain for ever (Ant. 12.108–109. Transl. by Ralph Marcus).
... In light of the present investigation into Josephus’s terminology of the tabernacle, Josephus wrote in these terms because he was aware of the ongoing process of revision to the Septuagint, to which he himself contributed. In fact, he provided his audience with a biblical account which was concurrently of a higher Greek standard in its more updated and specific terminology, as well as closer to the Hebrew than the Septuagint in its faithfulness to the text known to the historian, and represented therefore—at least in the intentions of the author—an improved alternative to the extant Greek Bible.

Silvia Castelli ... stelli.pdf

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