Flavius Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews, Trans. from Greek, by William Whiston, h/b, USA, Hendrickson, 1987 (1736).  

Josephus was a child of a significant priestly Jewish family and grew up in the turmoil of Roman occupation of Israel. Born in A.D. 37 and dying near the end of the C1st A.D. Josephus was a key military leader in Israel’s fateful war of independence from the Roman war machine which resulted eventually in the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70A.D.  In spite of the horrific defeat, slaughter and surrender, the captured Josephus managed to become directly acquainted with and gained the favour of the Roman leader Vespasian. When Vespasian eventually became emperor in A.D. 69 Josephus was officially freed and eventually was able to return to Rome with Titus, Vespasian’s son and future Emperor.  Josephus settled in Rome as a client of the emperor on an imperial pension, eventually gaining the rights of a Roman citizen and adopting the emperor’s family name, Flavius. From this point on he began his literary endeavours.  

Josephus’ Antiquities is a monster read, 514 pages printed in small print with two columns on each page! This work tells the history of the people of Israel, commencing with extracts from the Book of Genesis. Josephus then takes the reader through the Old Testament narrative of the history of Israel from  God’s covenant with Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the period of the judges and first kings including David and leading the reader to the destruction of the first temple and the Israelite sojourn in Babylon, their release under the Persians and the challenges they faced with occupation from in turn the Egyptians, the Seleucids, and finally the Romans. Josephus does not deal with the wars and destruction of Jerusalem in The Antiquities as he had covered this period in a previous book, The Wars of the Jews, or, The Destruction of Jerusalem. 

The reader obtains regular detailed additional footnoted commentaries on various events from the translator, William Whiston who was himself not just a scholar of the Greek language, but a mathematician, philosopher and theological scholar of some note. Readers need to make up their own mind about the veracity and value of Whiston’s additional comments! An additional historian often quoted helpfully in his footnotes is Dean Humphrey Prideaux who wrote in 1845 a well regarded 2 volume  History of the Jews and Neighbouring Nations and the Connection between the Old and New Testaments!  

In spite of the size of Josephus’ work I think thoughtful Christian readers will enjoy The Antiquities of the Jews. Its story of the faithfulness of Jewish believers  through two millennia to 70 A.D.and, three hundred years after Whiston’s translation, we in our generation still see the Jews today, after another two millennia of trauma,  fighting to stay alive on the same piece of dirt in the State of Israel.  In addition there are occasional references to figures from our New Testament including Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, James the Brother of Jesus and of course Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. I can honestly say I enjoyed reading The Antiquities of the Jews.  5 stars.

 Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind, p/b, New York, Avon Books, 1964 (1936)  

Powerful narrative of a three-way love triangle set in the context of the C19th  American Civil War over the abolition of the Slave Trade and the rights of black Americans.   Scarlet O’Hara, the spoilt first child of a wealthy Irish American Coffee planter in Georgia, is thwarted in love when her first love Ashley Wilkes announces his engagement to his cousin, the ever sweet and adoring Melanie. Made into a memorable film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh Gone with the Wind one of the old time great love stories.

At a vast garden party just before the war at which the engagement is announced Scarlet has a violent and losing fight in a library  with Ashley which happens to have been seen by the suave Rhett Butler who also has his eye on Scarlet. The civil war changes the lives of every Southern State in the South East as Scarlet’s house Tara is taken over by Yankees and she flees to family in Atlanta where both Scarlet and Melanie found initial security while Ashley went to the war. Rhett Butler manages to inveigle himself into Scarlet’s life so the love triangle continues against the background of horrifying accounts of the four year progress of the Civil War.

This extremely lengthy novel was enjoyed by our club members although not all were able to finish the 1024 pages in my paperback edition. Mitchell paints a too glossy account of the happy lives of black African slaves but her analysis of the horrors of the war and the impact on the Southern States is powerful and accurate.  5 stars. 

Review of Jane Austen: Shorter Works, Intro, Richard Church; Decorations, Joan Hassal:  

h/b, London, The Folio Society, 1975 ( writing from 1787-1817) 

Jane Austen I am sure will always remain in my list of favourite authors and although six acclaimed novels is a considerable achievement indeed, one always hopes for more. From the age of 11 Austen was writing Juvenalia, and even in these fragments the gift of future genius can be seen emerging. 

Her adult writing can be said to have begun with the incomplete The Watsons (1803) and the epistolary Lady Susan (1805).  All of Austen’s delicate shades of meaning, deft and witty conversation and surprising twists that force the reader to continue reading are already found in these works.  Her last work Sanditon written in 1817(only one chapter completed) has recently been reproduced as a major television series. The dedicated lover of anything Jane Austen will be unable to put these varied pieces down. Austen’s ability to commit the reader to find out “how things will work out” forces the reader to keep on keeping on. Austen even created a very humorous if not always accurate history of England with a particular leaning towards Catholicism as well as Mary Queen of Scots. Her complete minor novels: Lesley Castle/Evelyn/Frederick and Elfrida/Jack and Alice/Edgar and Emma/Henry and Eliza/ and The Three Sisters, all offer Austen gems, humour, surprise and wonder. This is a collection to savour and remind ourselves that for character, wit, sangfroid and style she still has no equal…even after 236 years!

Ed. Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata:  Josephus, The Bible and History, h/b, Detroit, Wayne  State University Press, 1989 

This book is a series of essays connected with the extraordinary and controversial life and writings of Flavius Josephus, who lived in the First Century A.D.  Josephus’  extensive writings [The Antiquities of the Jews, The Wars of the Jews, Against Apion, The Life of Flavius Josephus and An Extract of Josephus’ Discourse to the Greeks,]are, apart from the Old Testament the major source of our knowledge of the history of the Jews from the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (B.C.E 175-163) to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70 and the fall of Masada in A.D. 73. There is no comparable source for determining the setting of late inter-testamental and New Testament Times, so Josephus’ work is absolutely critical for our understanding of Judaism in the period of Jesus’ life and death and the period of the writing of the New Testament. 

In addition Josephus is also a most important source of our knowledge of the biblical canon and text, since our earliest complete manuscripts of the Bible, at least in the Hebrew, are a millenium later.  In addition Josephus is indispensable for our understanding of the political, social, economic, and religious background of the rise of Christianity and of the other sects of the era, as well as of Jewry and the Diaspora.

Josephus is also our most important literary guide to the geography, topography, and monuments of Palestine so that modern day archeologists are as reliant on Josephus as they are on their spades and other techniques. Further than this Josephus is most important as a historian of the Graeco-Roman Republic and on the first century of the Roman Empire. 

These essays provide detailed analysis of and criticism of Josephus’ writings written by major C20 historians and Jewish scholars. A brief summary of the issues discussed in these essays follows:

Sid Z. Leiman writes about Josephus and the Canon of the Old Testament. Josephus’ canon corresponds very closely with the twenty four book canon of the Jewish Talmud which was being put together at the start of  the third century Common Era, commencing at first with the Mishnah.  

Louis Feldman’s essay is a comparison between Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews  and the late C2nd Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo   One of the interesting results of this comparison is that Josephus is clearly writing to the Greek speaking community of Judea and the Roman Empire as a recommendation of the Jewish faith. Feldman notes that Josephus’ Antiquities [history] of the Jews omits such embarassing episodes as Jacob’s cunning in tricking Laban out of his good sheep flocks, the Judah-Tamar rape episode, Moses’ slaying of the Egyptian, Miriam’s leprosy, Moses’ angry striking of the rock to obtain water, the story of the brazen serpent held up to cure those bitten by serpents, the building of the golden calf, and his creation of the story of Moses as a General employed by the Egyptians against the Ethiopians.

Eugene Ulrich’s study on Josephus’ text for the Books of Samuel demonstrates clearly that Josephus’ work was very largely based on the Greek text of the Old Testament as his source, rather than the Hebrew text at least in relation to the Books of Samuel.

André Pelletier discusses the importance of Josephus’ use of the term Septuagint for the Greek version of the Old Testament and the validity of the so-called Letter of Aristeas.

Isaiah M. Gafni writes about Josephus’ description of the Hasmonean uprising and demonstrates that Josephus is totally reliant on the Book of 1 Maccabees until the portion devoted to Simon, where Josephus clearly uses a different source. He also suggests that Josephus did not hesitate to invent facts for the purpose of making his text more interesting to his Greek audience.

Joseph Sievers writes about Josephus’ useful treatment of significant female figures in the Hasmonean Dynasty about whom we would otherwise know very little. 

Ben Zion Wacholder demonstrates Josephus’ use of the pagan historian Nicholas of Damascus, as did Strabo and Socrates.  He was a tutor for the children of Antony and Cleopatra, became a friend of Augustus and was Herod’s chief advisor. Josephus particularly relied on Nicholas for chapters 13 -17 of Antiquities. 

Günther Baumbach discusses Josphesus’ writing about the Sadducees, concluding that his few references to the Sadducees at least prompts the question as to whether prejudice played a role.

Clemens Thoma writes about The High Priesthood in the Judgment of Josephus, an area that Josephus knew well from his own status as an aristocratic chief priest  theologian and ambitious politician. This background explains Josephus’ deep interest in the rituals, cult proceedings and functions of the Jewish priesthood in this work on the Antiquities.

Valentin Nikiprowetzky deals with Josephus’ treatment of the Revolutionary Parties and the notion of the “zealous” or “jealous” state of mind which lead these leaders to oppose the Romans as enemies of God, an approach which Josephus himself did not approve of. 

Shimon Applebaum writes about Josephus and the Economic Causes of the Jewish War.

Heinz Kreissig offers A Marxist View of Josephus’ Account of the Jewish War.

Zeev Safrai writes a Description of the Land of Israel in Josephus’ works. As noted earlier much of this material has no parallel elsewhere so the reliability of this material is difficult to test.

Benjamin Mazar discusses Josephus in the light of Archaeological Excavations in Jerusalem and questions whether the 7th Book of The Wars of the Jews” which contains the story of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Masada story were not written by someone else.

The final essay by Louis H. Feldman is entitled A Selective Critical Bibliography of Josephus. This monumental and exacting analysis runs to 120 pages and contains a forbidding analysis of academic work relating to Josephus, written with clarity and care and indicating areas for further study. 

Feldman and Hata’s achievement in putting these essays together has provided scholars interested in Josephus with every possible guidance and further exploration.  It is an impressive volume indeed.    5 stars. 

Virginia  Axline:  Dibs: In Search of Self, p/b, Ringwood, Penguin, 1975 (1964)  

Dibs: In Search of Self Is a psychological study of a young child [Dibs is a made up name] of exceptional intelligence who was badly misunderstood by his parents but through careful psychological therapy was able to live a profoundly rich and significant life.  

The story is told word for word by the therapist Axline from recordings made during the therapy sessions.  Although initially this description of their relationship can be unsettling and a little boring the impact of the therapy on the child leads the reader forward with increasing interest.  It is a story that many misunderstood children, whether or not of high intelligence, will relate to in terms of their relationship with their own parents.  

Dibs: In Search of Self was set for many years in the senior years of Victorian secondary schools but although I had heard about the book it was never set in my years at school so I have read it for the first time now in 2023. Now, sixty years on the novel still leaves a powerful effect on the reader and is a reminder to parents to think carefully about how they respond to their children. It is also probably a book which helped a lot of students to understand some of their own parents reactions to them in the home.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and as an ageing and increasingly grumpy old man I found some tips for myself that I am sure will help me in the challenging years ahead!   5 stars. 

Betty Smith: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, p/b, London, Arrow Books, 1992 (1944).  

Beautifully written and delightfully engaging book written by American Betty Smith in 1944  (1896-1972) and never out of print since. Smith tells the story of an Irish-American family living in poverty in Brooklyn, a borough of New York City populated in the early C20th by European immigrants seeking a new life. The story tells the coming of age of Francie Nolan. Her Irish born family,  brother Neely,  mother Katie who scrubbed floors for a living, and their father Johnny who was an occasional night club singer and a drunk lived happily in a small rented house and got by. There is nothing romanticised in this narrative…all the ups and downs of family/street/school life are described without embellishment or over dramatics. Katie has strict standards in spite of their humble existence and Francie, ten years older than Neely,  has the additional support of Katie’s unmarried sister Sissy, who is far more street-wise and keeps an eye out for Francie.

The story creates an accurate and detailed account of Edwardian life from a poor child’s point of view with all its creativity and bustling New York action eventually leaning towards the first world war. The tree which grows in Brooklyn is a cut down tree with roots growing deep from a street grating and surviving and even flowering. It is an image of Francie, facing a tough life and still getting by and even thriving but it is told without sentimentality and exaggeration. It is hard to put describe the pull of this book for the reader.  The writing is taut, realistic, clever, real, and compelling. It is the sort of book you are sorry when it is finished and I for one, do not find many books like that these days.  5 stars and rising.